Concerns about COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas Medical Center

HOUSTON – COVID-19 hospitalization daily averages for the Texas Medical Center are three to four times higher than averages from the beginning of October. Local hospital leaders explained how a surge would be handled and how the public can help bring COVID-19 numbers down.

One look at daily averages of COVID-19 hospitalizations and it may resemble a rollercoaster with valleys in the fall and a gradual increase heading into the beginning of January.

The most recent numbers from last week, according to the Texas Medical Center, show an average of 307 hospitalizations per day. While the numbers are down from weeks prior, daily averages from January are much higher than they were in the fall. Local hospital leaders are reminding the public to do their part by handwashing, wearing facial coverings and social distancing.

“It’s really important that all of us maintain those parameters so that we don’t have another resurgence of this virus,” said Elizabeth Youngblood, president of Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Youngblood said the very recent leveling off of the daily averages of COVID-19 hospitalization comes as a bit of relief, though the numbers are still high.

“Our hospitalization rate is quite high, and certainly we have a lot of patients that are needing an ICU, so we’re very busy -- similar to many hospitals across the area,” Youngblood said.

The TMC has already added additional ICU beds and is in Phase 2 of their surge plan. The combined Phase 1 and Phase 2 capacity, according to TMC, is at 84% as of Jan 24. However, if the numbers were to continue to rise, Youngblood said the focus of hospitals will be on allocating equipment, beds and staff.

“Well, certainly staffing is a concern across the country,” Youngblood said.

At St. Lukes, they are prepared.

“We have to make sure that we have the right staff at the right place as needed. We have staff that we can move between hospitals or even between units within a hospital. In addition, we’re accessing agency staff and access staff ... available within the state,” Youngblood said.

While there are plenty of beds in the event of a surge, the surge protocol means that many nurses, doctors and hospital staff will have to shift gears.

“Every time we surge, it’s a little bit harder on our staff,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood said the recent spike is likely due to people feeling fatigued from taking precautions and perhaps people gathering during the holidays. She is hopeful that if people will take the necessary precautions, the numbers will fall.