HOUSTON – The third wave of COVID-19 in Texas continues to tax the state’s health care systems as 10,000 COVID-19 sufferers have been hospitalized for the first time since early February, state health officials reported.
Meantime, local governments and courts continue to chip away at Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask and social distancing mandates as a state district judge in San Antonio granted a temporary restraining order to allow San Antonio and Bexar County to require public school students to mask up and quarantine unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19.
There were 10,041 Texas hospital patients with COVID-19 as of Monday, the most recent state tally available from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the most since 10,259 COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported on Feb. 4.
Fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, the coronavirus cases have filled all the intensive-care beds in hospitals in the Big Thicket, Laredo and Coastal Bend regions. All but one or two of the intensive-care unit beds in hospitals in Austin and Victoria areas, and the West Texas Rolling Plains. Severe COVID-19 cases took all but three ICU beds in the Wichita Falls-Vernon and Waco areas.
Almost 35% of the Houston area's Memorial Hermann Health System's ICU capacity was occupied by severely ill COVID patients, while COVID patients occupied 25% of all beds across its system, said Memorial Hermann CEO David Callender.
While the hospital system saw COVID patient surges last summer and this past winter in mid-January, “what’s a little bit scary about this one is that the rate of acceleration of new cases, the rate of acceleration of hospitalizations is as high as we’ve ever seen it ... We’re not sure exactly how this current surge will peak, when it will peak, what the duration will be,” Callender said.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that the Texas Department of State Health Services would be utilizing staffing agencies to import medical personnel from out-of-state to supplement the COVID-19 operations of Texas health care facilities. However, Callender said he was unsure how much that will help as so many other areas of the country also are seeing their health care personnel overtaxed and temporary staffing agencies squeezed by the COVID-19 surge.
“All the hospitals are considering what they need and putting in requests, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Callender said.
A rolling seven-day average of new Texas COVID-19 cases averaged 14,143 daily, also the most since early February, according to Johns Hopkins University research data. The 84 new fatalities reported Tuesday were the most since 93 were reported on March 11, state health officials said.
In San Antonio, state District Judge Antonia Arteaga ordered that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District be allowed to impose the mask and quarantine measures. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Abbott, a Republican, exceeded his authority when issuing the mandate ban.
“We believe that he has unconstitutionally stepped beyond his power as governor,” Wolff, a Democrat, told county commissioners Tuesday. That power, he asserted, rests with the Legislature.
Nevertheless, the Northside Independent School District, the largest in Bexar County's patchwork of school districts, continued to abide by the Abbott ban, said district spokesman Barry Perez.
The Dallas Independent School District, the state's second-largest, implemented a mask mandate Tuesday. The Houston Independent School District, the state's largest, has asked its board to approve one Thursday.
Wallace reported from Dallas.