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COVID-19

More Pregnant Women Are Hospitalized With Severe COVID-19 Symptoms As Delta Variant Surges, Central Texas Doctors Say

A bed set up at the Austin Convention Center in case of hospital spillover.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A tent set up to treat patients at the Austin Convention Center in case area hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID cases. The field hospital closed in March before the latest surge in cases.

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The delta variant is causing severe symptoms among pregnant women, putting more of them in the hospital and on life support, area doctors said Monday during an Austin Public Health press conference.

Dr. Jessica Ehrig, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and obstetrics chief at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple, said compared to just 18 months ago there has been a significant increase in the number of pregnant women coming in and hospitalized with serious COVID infections.

“This new delta variant is affecting our pregnant moms more severely,” she said.

Ehrig said pregnant women who are getting infected with COVID during the spread of the delta variant are more likely to be hospitalized, more likely to get a severe illness and be admitted to the ICU — and eventually be intubated and hooked up to a machine to have their blood oxygenated.

“From the pregnancy side we are also seeing increased complications,” she said. “Those complications include preterm birth and prematurity, increased risk of preeclampsia for these moms, which can require preterm delivery. And, unfortunately, also increased risk of stillbirth.”

The majority of the hospitalized pregnant patients are unvaccinated, the doctors said, prompting them to remind the public that the available vaccines have demonstrated to be safe among women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Dr. Kimberly DeStefano, medical director of maternal fetal medicine at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, said the earlier a woman gets a vaccine during her pregnancy, the more antibodies the child will have. Antibodies are also shared with infants during breastfeeding, she said.

Many of the pregnant women in the hospital are in their second or third trimester, and a majority of them are women of color, the doctors said.

The press conference comes as the highly contagious delta variant has caused a new surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the area.

Local health officials said last week that the number of beds available in the Austin area’s intensive care units was fluctuating around 16 — the lowest since the pandemic started. That’s 16 ICU beds for 11 counties with more than 2.3 million residents.

Watch the press conference below:

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