Gov. Greg Abbott bans elective surgeries in four of Texas' biggest counties to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients

The Baylor Scott and White Medical Center Hillcrest hospital in Waco on March 25, 2020. Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday morning he is once again putting a stop to elective surgeries to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients — but this time the prohibition only applies to Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties, four areas where the number of patients hospitalized with virus is quickly progressing.

Just Tuesday, Abbott stressed that hospital capacity in Texas was “abundant.” A day later, Abbott acknowledged in a TV interview that capacity issues in some parts of the state "may necessitate a localized strategy" instead of a return to statewide action.

Statewide, the number of hospitalizations has reached record highs for a full two weeks, soaring to 4,739 on Thursday morning and tripling since Memorial Day. On Wednesday, there were 1,320 intensive care unit beds and nearly 13,000 available hospital beds, but with regional disparities.

In hard-hit regions, some hospitals have begun moving coronavirus patients from crowded ICUs to other facilities and local leaders have warned that hospitals could get overwhelmed if the number of infections keeps climbing. In the greater Houston area, the Texas Medical Center warns that the intensive care units are 30 beds away from filling up to their normal capacity. Hospitals and care facilities would then employ their surge plans to build out additional capacity.

Some hospital leaders had also pointed out that treating both patients could become unsustainable: “Should the number of new cases grow too rapidly, it will eventually challenge our ability to treat both COVID-19 and non-COVID 19 patients,” Dr. Marc Boom, head of the Houston Methodist hospital system, wrote in an email Friday.

Some counties could be added to the list if hospitalizations surge in other areas of Texas.

As hospitalizations have jumped in recent weeks, Abbott had suggested one of the first major moves the state could make is to at least partially restore the elective surgeries ban that Texas put in place in late March.

That statewide ban lasted about a month before Abbott eased it, allowing hospitals to resume non-essential procedures under certain conditions, as long as 15% of beds were reserved for coronavirus patients.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.