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Rationing Care Is On Horizon If Texas Doesn't Solve Climbing COVID-19 Hospitalizations

an ambulance outside a hospital emergency room
Gabriel C. Pérez

From Texas Standard:

One in five Texas hospital beds is occupied by a COVID-19 patient, and many of the state's hospital regions have surpassed the important 15% threshold for total COVID-19 patients.

All of this is the backdrop for what's likely to be a difficult month in Texas hospitals, says Dr. Diana Cervantes. She's assistant professor and director of the Master's of Public Health Epidemiology Program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.

Cervantes told Texas Standard that the climbing number of hospitalizations is "very concerning," and that it's the result of travel and gatherings over Thanksgiving. She says the Christmas and New Year's holidays are going to help continue that trend through January.

"It's well-established now that the primary way that this virus is transmitted is through respiratory droplets," Cervantes said. "And we know many people are infected and don't have any signs and symptoms, but they can still transmit the virus. And unfortunately, that is the perfect combination for a lot of viral spread."

Hospitals across the state have surpassed the 15% threshold for seven or more consecutive days, including in Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, Dallas, Texarkana, Tyler, Lufkin, College Station, San Antonio, Victoria and Laredo. Cervantes says when hospitals in smaller cities, along with those in large urban areas, fill up, there's nowhere to transfer patients. The worst-case scenario is that hospitals would have to make tough decisions about who to treat first, like they're doing now in California. Texas is not there yet, but it's close, she says.

"That's absolutely where we don't want to be, because right now, yes, if somebody gets sick, then there is care that's available. But it can get to the point where people need specific type of care, but they're going to have to prioritize patients," Cervantes said.

She says the solution to slowing the spread is the same as it's always been: avoiding crowds, cramped spaces and close proximity to other people. And those guidelines still apply even as vaccines are being distributed. It's not an opportunity to let your guard them, she says.

In the meantime, cities and counties in Texas where hospitals have surpassed the 15% threshold have the authority to reduce capacity of businesses and limit public gatherings. Cervantes says business owners in hot spots without added restrictions should seriously consider how they can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

"They need to really assess the situation and say, 'OK, are we going to contribute to this ongoing transmission? Are we going to really make sure that we're setting the standard and following the best guidelines to prevent any ongoing disease and ongoing repercussions in our communities?'" she said.

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Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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