In North Texas, intensive care bed space is running out. Only 2 pediatric ICU spots remain in region
As the number of COVID-19 delta cases mounts, only two children’s ICU beds — out of 285 total — were available in the 19th county of North Texas on Tuesday.
Dallas County hospitals reported 3,270 new cases this weekend, compared with 2,750 cases in a 14-day period last month.
Hospitals have a 90% capacity and are facing staff shortages, said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. According to W. Stephen Love, chairman of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, only 28 adult ICU beds were available in Dallas County on Tuesday.
According to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council, a total of 588 ICU beds would have been available Monday if none had been admitted in the county and 1,556 in the region.
According to a Texas DSHS spokesperson, only 329 staffed intensive care beds were left in the state on Tuesday, out of a total of 7,451 ICU beds. This is the lowest number of available ICU beds the state has had during the entire pandemic, when cases first surfaced here in March 2020.
On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott asked for out-of-state help for COVID-19 surgeries and sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association asking hospitals to voluntarily delay elective surgeries. He issued an executive order last month banning local governments from issuing mask mandates.
About 65% of new cases in Dallas County involve people under the age of 40, and 80% of new cases come from those who haven’t been vaccinated, Jenkins said.
“If you’re not vaccinated, it’s only a matter of when, not if you get COVID,” Jenkins said.
About 54% of the state’s and Dallas County’s eligible populations are fully vaccinated, according to Texas Health and Human Services.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins addressed the media on Tuesday about the current state of the delta coronavirus variant outside the Dallas County Health and Human Services building. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News) (Tom Fox/staff photographer)
Unvaccinated Flooding Hospitals
The same scenario is playing out across the state, where the majority of hospitalizations and ICU patients are unvaccinated, said Dr. Emma Dishner, an infectious disease physician at North Texas Infectious Disease Consultants, a clinical research center in Dallas.
“This virus is becoming more contagious and deadly,” Jenkins said. “The delta variant won’t be the last we face, so get vaccinated.”
Love said the low number of ICU beds is a cause for concern not only because of the increasing COVID-19 cases, but also because of other medical needs that require intensive care.
If the beds are full and someone comes in after a car accident, for example, they have nowhere to go. Some hospitals in more rural provinces have already closed their emergency rooms. Love said that if hospitals fill up, they could be forced to send patients out of the state.
“This is extremely critical,” he said. “If you start to run out of capacity, if you start to run out of staff, it becomes a safety issue.”
In 19 counties in North Texas, more than a third of adult ICU patients have COVID-19. Hospital admissions have more than quadrupled in 30 days.
There are 82 staffed adult ICU beds available in the region, and the breakdown by county is as follows: 28 in Dallas, 33 in Tarrant, 12 in Collin and nine in Denton. These four provinces are the only ones in the region with available ICU beds for adults — the intensive care units of the rural provinces are running at full capacity.
On Tuesday, 64 confirmed pediatric COVID-19 patients in the region were admitted. Love said this is the highest number of pediatric COVID-19 patients ever treated.
Hospitals in Central Texas reported having only two staffed beds for intensive care in the region and are witnessing a tripling of pediatric patients, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
While it is lower than all other age groups, the number of pediatric patients being hospitalized with the coronavirus is also growing. Asked directly whether masks should be made mandatory for children 12 and under, who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, said Dr. John Hellerstedt, the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, said this is a “leadership decision.”
“The medical recommendation is that all of these measures are additive and masking in an indoor environment will absolutely increase safety in that environment,” he said.
dr. Joseph Chang, medical chief of Parkland Memorial Hospital, told the senators that mostly unvaccinated people come to the hospital. From mid-January to mid-July, he said, 1,100 COVID-19 patients were admitted and 27 of them were vaccinated.
Jenkins urged residents to mask, vaccinated or not, in high-risk situations and said people should be vigilant about getting COVID-19 testing.
“Masks are worthless, but it’s a small sacrifice to save lives.”
Officials expressed concern about the start of the school year as children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated. They urged all students to wear face masks in schools. On Monday, Dallas ISD announced it would require masks in defiance of Abbott’s executive order. Jenkins said he hopes other school districts will follow suit.
“I don’t know when people in this country got so weak in their patriotism that they couldn’t bear the idea of wearing a mask at the grocery store or having their kid wear a mask at school,” Jenkins said.
Middle-aged people at risk
Middle-aged Texans are now fueling the increase in hospitalizations, replacing the elderly, whose hospitalizations fell after the Texas vaccination campaign, according to data presented to the state Senate on Tuesday by the Health and Human Services Committee.
“Obviously, the delta variant is spreading very quickly in our communities. It’s quite dangerous and is now causing the need for hospitalization in, if you will, relatively young age groups,” Hellerstedt told the senators.
The delta variant is a stronger, more contagious strain of the virus. Even vaccinated people who may not get a severe case of COVID-19 can spread it to eight or nine others, Love said, including those who haven’t been vaccinated.
dr. Philip Huang (left) and Dr. Emma Dishner of the North Texas Infectious Disease Consultants, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, answered media questions about the current state of the coronavirus delta variant outside the county health building in Dallas on Tuesday. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News) (Tom Fox/staff photographer)
dr. Dallas County health director Philip Huang said he had heard stories from hospital doctors of patients expressing regret and wishing they had been vaccinated.
“This is heartbreaking,” Huang said. “This is preventable. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please do. It’s safe. It is effective.”