Tents return

The backlog of ER patients due to COVID-19 has prompted Hunt Regional Healthcare to again install tents outside the ER at Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville.

AUSTIN — There are more Texans hospitalized with COVID-19 than during the first peak of the pandemic in July 2020, according to state data.

The rapid surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has once again prompted Hunt Regional Medical Center to install tents outside the emergency room.

In his weekly COVID-19 update, Hunt Regional Healthcare CEO Lee Boles said that as of Friday morning a total of 152 patients had been admitted this week to Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville, down slightly from last week.

“However, our number of COVID patients has increased to 48,” Boles said. “Currently, 10 of these 48 patients are in the ICU and five of those are on ventilators. Our total ICU occupancy is 23. Today there are 16 patients holding in the Greenville ER for inpatient beds. There is one patient in Commerce and one in Quinlan also holding for inpatient beds at Hunt Regional Medical Center.

Boles said the backlog of ER patients has prompted the hospital to again install tents outside the ER at Hunt Regional Medical Center.

“These tents are being utilized as patient waiting areas so that the actual ER waiting room can be converted to an ER patient treatment area,” Boles said.

Supercharged by the omicron variant, COVID-19 infections have skyrocketed in Hunt County, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). As of Thursday, Jan. 13, the county reported 1,648 likely COVID-19 infections, up from 884 one week earlier, and up from 394 on Jan. 1.

Earlier this week, Greenville school officials decided to shut down Carver Elementary until after Tuesday due to a staffing shortage brought on by COVID-19 infections.

In hospital trauma service area E, a 19-county region of North Texas that includes Hunt County, 22.28% of all hospitalizations were due to COVID-19, according to DSHS.

Statewide on Wednesday, there were 11,571 adults and children hospitalized with the disease that has overtaken the globe for more than two years. During the first wave of the pandemic in summer 2020, nearly 10,700 people were hospitalized with the disease in Texas.

“New cases are skyrocketing. COVID has never spread this fast in Texas. Hospitalizations rising rapidly. Fatalities increasing,” the Texas Department of State Health Services tweeted Wednesday.

The state’s highest number of those hospitalized was set last January at 14,200, but projections by The University of Texas at Austin Covid-19 Modeling Consortium have those records shattering within the week — potentially reaching 15,200 by Jan. 18.

Anass Bouchnita, a postdoctoral researcher for the consortium, said according to projections the number of hospitalizations in the state will continue to rise for the next two to three weeks.

“If we look at the 14 day interval, it seems that the growth of cases in Texas is still very significant … and if we also take into consideration the level of immunity in Texas — which is I think lower than immunity in the (U.S.) — this suggests that we probably still [have]n’t reached the peak yet,” Bouchnita said.

The recent surge comes as the omicron variant continues to spread throughout communities and is beginning to overwhelm hospitals.

In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday thanking him for sending more than 400 additional nurses last week but begging for more.

“The stress on our hospitals has continued to accelerate at an alarming pace due the fast-spreading omicron variant, and we are experiencing a dramatic surge in hospitalizations,” the letter read.

On Tuesday, Harris County moved to its red level in COVID threat, signifying a “severe and uncontrolled level” of the disease and a strain on public health capacity. Austin-Travis County made the same move last week.

Bouchnita said it is likely the messaging that omicron is less severe than previous variants that has the spread rising so quickly. While true, it has also changed human behavior to be less vigilant in what they do and who they see, allowing the already fast-spreading variant to reach more people more quickly and causing a surge in cases and hospitalizations, he said.

Texas reported more than 61,100 newly confirmed cases Wednesday, with fatalities surpassing 75,500. The state reached 75,000 deaths last Thursday.

“I don't think we should underestimate omicron,” Bouchnita said. “The transmissibility of it can be really dangerous and compensates for its reduced severity.”

State health experts have predicted the peak of the current wave to hit in mid- to late-January. Bouchnita said UT projections find that the number of cases in the state to hit in late January with hospitalizations to likely crest a week to two weeks after.

Bouchnita added that because the state continues to see a rapidly rising number of confirmed cases, it will likely see hospital admissions that exceed any previous record.

“This is what's happening now,” he said.

Texas currently has a positivity rate — or the rate at which tests return positive — of 35.6% for molecular tests. It has dropped slightly from the record of 36.11% set Saturday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services officials continue to urge vaccination as a key component to reducing hospitalizations. As of Wednesday, 72.85% of eligible Texans have received at least one dose, with about 61.74% fully vaccinated, data shows.

“Vaccination is proven to reduce hospitalizations, severe illness and death and is our best weapon to use against COVID-19 and its variants, like Omicron,” Douglas Loveday, DSHS press officer told CNHI News.

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