Tarrant County under public health warning as ICU beds are 92% full

Tarrant County officials say the uptick in COVID-19 cases is filling up area hospitals.

During the Tuesday, Nov. 17 Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting, Public Health Director Vinny Taneja issued a “public health warning,” citing the increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients and the large number of ICU beds now occupied. The public health warning doesn’t carry any mandates or new restrictions, but Taneja hopes people will work to “flatten the curve” of growing COVID-19 cases.  

Taneja said COVID-19 patients make up more than 15% of the county’s hospitalized patients and the county’s ICU beds are now 92% full. Only 36 ICU beds remain in Tarrant County, he told the Commissioners Court, which “for a county of 2 million people, that’s very few beds remaining.” He said there are just three pediatric ICU beds available, which is actually better than the one bed available over the weekend.

Taneja said there are 778 people hospitalized with the virus, which is a new record for the county. He said 39% of the county’s ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients and 1 in 5 of hospital patients are there because of COVID-19.

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Tarrant County Public Health on Tuesday reported eight COVID-19 deaths. 
The deceased include a woman from Keller in her 90s, a woman from Mansfield in her 90s, a man from Fort Worth in his 80s, a man from Fort Worth in his 70s, a woman from Grand Prairie in her 70s, a man from Hurst in his 60s, a man from Forest Hill in his 50s, a man from Watauga in his 50s. Seven of the individuals had underlying health conditions.

Tarrant County now has 802 confirmed deaths from the COVID-19 virus and 62,507 people have recovered. On Monday, the county reported 899 new cases and on  Tuesday, 732.

Texas feeling the growth of cases

The crush of the coronavirus surge in El Paso has the city sending its non-COVID-19 cases to hospitals elsewhere in the state, officials said Tuesday.

El Paso confirmed 994 new COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths Tuesday, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler confirmed that Austin-area hospitals are receiving non-coronavirus patients from overwhelmed hospitals in the border city.

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In a Facebook Live update on Monday night, Adler said that El Paso was in a “world of hurt” and that numbers in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston were “scarier than ours, and our numbers are scary enough by themselves.”

El Paso’s health care systems became overwhelmed even after the state sent additional medical resources, Adler said. He added that he was concerned that if Dallas, Houston and San Antonio hospitals also required help, Austin’s resources would have little to no capacity to treat its own cases if its COVID-19 numbers reached a similar level.

“We have patients in our hospitals right now that don’t have the virus but needed hospitalizations, and they are here from El Paso because there was no room,” Adler said.

Meanwhile, officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, appealed to the public to forego gatherings with anyone beyond their own immediate households during the holiday season in an effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

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On Tuesday afternoon, Harris County sent out an emergency text alert to all 4.7 million of its residents asking them to cancel their holiday gatherings and to get tested.

“This is not the year … to have a great holiday gathering, a great outing at the bar, restaurant. It’s just not the time,” said Harris County Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official.

Statewide, 7,165 new coronavirus cases Tuesday raised to 1,066,918 the number reported since the pandemic first struck Texas in early March, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Thirty-seven new COVID-19 deaths also were reported as the outbreak nears the mid-July peak.

At a news conference, Hidalgo warned that the number of COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations locally is increasing. She said she feared the trends resembled what the area saw right before June and July when the county saw a large spike in cases that filled up hospitals.

Hidalgo said that since late September, the number of average new daily cases in Harris County has increased by 250%. In this same time period, the positivity rate has increased 30 percent and is now at 8.2%.

Hidalgo, who has been critical of the state’s handling of the pandemic and its limits on local jurisdictions’ ability to implement rules during the crisis, said residents should be asking more of all levels of government.

“That’s why we need the state to step in and lead or get out of the way and let us lead,” she said.

“I am concerned by what’s happening in El Paso and seeing that they’ve got no recourse, that they’re having to pull up those mobile morgues, that hospitals are overwhelmed, stories of tragedy,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want that to happen here and that’s why we’re having this conversation to try and avoid that fate.” – Associated Press contributed to report