Facing a crush of COVID-19 patients, ICUs are completely full in at least 50 Texas hospitals

(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Hidalgo County Health Authority Ivan Melendez says coming into COVID-19 units nowadays feels like going through a non-linear version of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“You cry,” he told the Tribune. “There’s a lady that I’m taking care of that I’ve known since I was a child… we grew up together, and I know she’s going to die… It’s the same thing: ‘We got together for Christmas.’ Now we’re seeing the ramification of it.”

Across Texas, hospital intensive care units are being battered as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in a post-holiday surge. Dozens of facilities have reported that their ICUs have been at or above 100% capacity for weeks, leaving staff overworked and stretched thin.

More than 50 Texas hospitals are currently reporting that their ICUs are 100% full or higher, and a dozen of them have been full for more than half of the 24 weeks since hospitals began reporting that information in July, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For example, Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen and HCA Houston Healthcare Medical Center in Houston have been over 100% for 23 and 22 weeks, respectively.

Though statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 seem to be stabilizing, there is still cause for concern, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Across Texas, there are around 600 available ICU beds — a fraction of the couple of thousand that were open in the spring as the pandemic began.

Van Deusen said the pandemic has seemed to hit different regions in waves. Currently, the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio areas are seeing significant spikes in COVID-19 cases, according to DSHS data.

Health officials in Laredo have sent emergency alerts pleading with residents to stay home because local ICUs have reached capacity within the past month. Currently, COVID-19 patients take up almost half of that region’s hospital capacity, according to DSHS data — the highest percentage in the state.