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From pop-up medical tents at Houston’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital to an official emergency declaration in Austin, hospital systems across Texas are buckling under the strain of rampant COVID-19 hospitalizations.

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As the Lone Star State emerges as an epicenter of the nation’s latest COVID-19 surge, intensive care unit beds are nearing capacity, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked medical facilities statewide on Monday to postpone elective surgeries to alleviate the coronavirus-fueled congestion.

“Trend line is vertical”

Abbott also noted in a Monday letter to the Texas Hospital Association that the Texas Department of State Health Services is working to mobilize out-of-state help for struggling hospitals, KPRC2 reported.

While welcomed, the state-level steps have not yet alleviated any pressure on Harris Health System, whose LBJ Hospital ICU was 100% full Monday afternoon, with 63% of those patients being treated for COVID-19 complications. The system’s Ben Taub Hospital’s ICU was 95% full, but only 27% of those patients are being treated for COVID-19 infections, The Houston Chronicle reported.

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“The trend line is vertical,” Harris Health spokesperson Bryan McLeod told the newspaper.

Austin hits “critical” COVID-19 volume

More than 150 miles away, health officials in Austin activated the “Warn Central Texas” emergency alert system, designed for disaster response, on Saturday, noting that the city’s COVID-19 saturation was “severely worsening” and had reached a “critical” point, Fox News reported.

“Our hospitals are severely stressed and there is little we can do to alleviate their burden with the surging cases,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority’s Desmar Walkes said in a prepared statement. “The public has to act now and help, or we will face a catastrophe in our community that could have been avoided.”

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 9,462 COVID-19-related hospitalizations were reported Saturday, the state’s highest hospitalization figure since Feb. 6 and an increase of 30% compared with the previous Saturday, the Chronicle reported.

With more than 3.2 million cumulative COVID-19 cases reported to date, Texas trails only California’s slightly more than 4 million cases. The state’s 53,724 virus-related deaths place it third-highest in the nation, behind only California with 64,795 and New York with 53,750 fatalities, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

“Worst-case projections” tracking

Meanwhile, a report from the University of Texas’ COVID-19 modeling consortium project, released Friday and obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, indicated that if current community response and vaccination rates are maintained, there is a 94% probability that Austin-area intensive care units will reach their 200-bed capacity by Nov. 1 and a 92% chance that benchmark will be reached by the end of August.

“Hospitals are filling, prevalence is increasing, and just at a time where we want things to be as safe as possible to open schools,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, executive director of the modeling consortium and a co-author of the report, told the newspaper.

“We’re in crisis mode as a city when it comes to our health care system,” she added.

According to the report, the worst-case scenario indicated a 94% possibility that Austin area ICUs could reach capacity as early as Sunday, the American-Statesman reported.

“Unfortunately, our sort of worst-case projections are tracking,” Meyers told the newspaper. “The hospitalization numbers have really shot up very dramatically and are consistent with those projections we made several weeks ago of what would happen if we don’t take precautions that slow transmission.”

Meanwhile, the tents erected outside LBJ Hospital in Houston could be used for COVID-19 overflow, but McLeod said they may instead field non-COVID-19 patients or those with less severe infections, the Chronicle reported.

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