Some Harris County neighborhoods could need more hospitalizations during coronavirus pandemic, study shows

HOUSTON – While anyone can contract coronavirus, the new strain has proven to be more deadly for people older than 65 and those with underlying health issues.

One study, relying on demographics, shows there are certain Harris County neighborhoods that could be more at risk and in need of additional hospital and critical care services.

Stephen Linder, Ph.D., with UTHealth School of Public Health is behind the study.

“We thought that we could construct some maps at the sub-county level based on 38 areas within Harris County to get some idea of where the demand might be for hospitalization given that we anticipate the spread of COVID-19,” Linder said.

Researchers used factors like age and number of pre-existing health conditions to create these sub-county maps, with the aim of anticipating where demand might be highest.

The results coincide with some of the county’s most economically-challenged communities.

“This study just works to validate my concerns are right on point that people are already vulnerable,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Harris County Precinct 2. He added, “When you throw something like COVID 19 into the mix it just makes their situation increasingly critical.”

The study identified a section of northeast Houston, east of Highway 59 near Little York as the most vulnerable community for coronavirus spread.

Researchers estimated about 20% of the people there will need hospitalization for COVID-19.

Ivory Mayhorn, the chairperson for the Little York Super Neighborhood said the community is economically-challenged.

“There’s 150,000 residents and for the most part, the average income to come out of here is about $20,000 a year," Mayhorn said.

One of the ways the residents are trying to fight the spread of COVID-19 is by handing out fresh produce to the elderly population in the area, at community center.

According to one volunteer at the community center, 60% of the population are seniors.

Deer Park, Downtown, South Acres Homes and parts of southwest Houston round out the rest of the top five at-risk communities in the Houston area.

If the predictions prove true, more hospital beds will be needed to help treat all the people who could potentially fall sick.

“We’re hoping that the county in considering where their surge capacity needs to be, in terms of support for hospitalization through the COVID-19 crisis...that we’ll be able to match the supply to the demand,” Linder said.

Linder says one idea is to construct so-called “pop-up hospitals” as they did in China.