dangerous numbers

Houston edging dangerously close to previous COVID-19 limits, says new report

Houston edging dangerously close to previous COVID-19 limits

Coronavirus COVID-19 test
Houston is just one day away from previous COVID limits.  valentinrussanov/Getty Images

The Houston area could soon experience COVID-19 restrictions seen during the earlier phases of reopening.

That's because Trauma Service Area (TSA) Q, a region that includes Harris County, is just one day away from having COVID-19 hospitalizations at 15 percent or higher for seven days in a row, according to data from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

According to an order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, any TSA that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations exceeds 15 percent must close bars and reduce restaurant capacity to 50 percent.

Department of State Health Services data showed Texas TSA Q was at 15 percent from December 29 to January 3, which is six days in a row. If that percent drops below 15 percent on day seven, then a reduction in restaurant capacity would not be required.

TSA Q includes the following counties: Austin, Colorado, Fort Bend, Harris, Matagorda, Montgomery, Walker, Waller and Wharton.

"I'm certain we're going to see very close to, if not eclipse, what we saw in July," said Dr. James McCarthy, the executive vice president and chief physician's executive for Memorial Hermann.

Memorial Hermann said currently they're at three-quarters of where they were in July when hospitals saw a record number of cases to deal with the surge, and they're already adding more capacity.

"The after-surgery space, we've converted some of that into ICU in-patient capacity, and we've opened up some units that had been closed to add capacity, so we can better accommodate our patients," said McCarthy.

For some perspective, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, 53 percent of ICU beds in July were occupied by patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 in a nine-county region. That number was at 11 percent on October 1 and 30 percent on January 3.

If things don't improve, it could also impact elective surgeries, which are procedures that are not deemed urgent or life-threatening.

"If cases continue to climb, I don't think any of the health systems in Houston will be able to continue to sustain elective surgeries at the rate they're doing them. We're all trying not to do that, to not delay patients' care, but that's a very likely reality if cases continue to climb the way they are," said McCarthy.

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