WARNING: Be careful to avoid Houston-area emergency rooms amid COVID-19 spike

HOUSTON – COVID-19 is leaving hospitals so packed first responders and patients are facing excruciating wait times.

One patient told KPRC 2 she waited at St. Luke’s for two days to get a bed.

Dr. Syed Raza, vice president of medical operations at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, said they’re doing the best they can but patients needing intensive care may not be seen for hours or days.

“Because of our burgeoning census throughout the state, it’s very hard for us to get beds,” Raza explained. “Actually, some places are using their waiting rooms as hospital beds… We don’t really have a choice we just have to take care of people.”

That situation is not unique to St. Luke’s, fire captain Chris Ponzica takes calls from ambulance crews with no place to go.

“We’re still waiting for a bed - it’s been three and a half hours - what do you want us to do?” He said one crew called to ask him.

The truth is, there’s nothing he can do.

According to SETRAC CEO Darrell Pile, in 25 counties in and around Harris County, there are 678 patients waiting for a hospital bed, 265 of them have COVID. There are 112 patients waiting for an ICU bed, 75 of them have COVID.

With no end in sight, doctors said you have to do everything in your power to stay out of the emergency room and keep it available for life-threatening emergencies.

“As far as avoiding risky behaviors, the TikTok challenges, the crate challenge, whatever the milk crate challenge. There are all sorts of ridiculous things. I guess people have a lot of time on their hands, but if there’s a possibility that you end up in the emergency room because of it. Really just, just don’t do it,” Dr. Raza said.

Raza said the staff is exhausted from doing this every day for 19 months.

Governor Greg Abbott deployed extra medical personnel across the state Thursday. Raza said they are a welcomed sight.