Half of Texas Trauma Hospitals Run out of ICU Beds as COVID Surges

Half of the state of Texas' 22 trauma service areas say they have run out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, with numerous major hospitals in cities like Houston and Laredo reporting 95 percent capacity rates.

The Harris Health System in Houston reported Tuesday that one out of four patients in its two hospitals tested positive for COVID-19, prompting administrators to begin preparing tents for a surge of overflowing patients. In Austin, five hospitals reported hitting 90 percent capacity rates and two hospitals said they have zero available ICU beds. Half of Texas' 22 trauma service areas said they have 10 or fewer ICU beds available as of Sunday as nearly 10,000 COVID-19 patients have flooded into the state's ICUs.

Public health and hospital officials across the state said the Delta variant of the virus has caused a faster surge in new COVID-19 patients over the past several weeks than at any other time during the pandemic.

At least 53 hospitals across the state of Texas have no ICU availability at all, according to data provided to the federal government through August 5.

The Ben Taub Hospital's intensive care unit in Houston on Sunday reported being at 95 percent capacity, with 27 percent of that being taken up COVID-19 patients. As hospitals are being set up in the parking lot outside, administrators at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital said they have zero ICU beds available and are at 100 percent utilization as of Sunday.

"This surge is by far the fastest and most aggressive that we've seen. Almost all of our hospitalizations are due to unvaccinated patients developing severe illness," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County's health authority, in remarks to local reporters late last week. "ICU staff are seeing a younger population in our hospitals. Patients in the ICU are sicker and stay in the hospital longer than with prior surges, putting more strain on hospital resources."

While COVID-19 patients make up less than one-third of the overall utilization of these beds, an overwhelming 87.1 percent of hospital beds in Texas are currently in use. That marks the highest percentage since the start of the pandemic back in March 2020. This week, 14.1 percent of these beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

The surge in overflowing hospital patients has been coupled with Governor Greg Abbott's ban on allowing local government officials to enforce mask mandates. And now medical professionals say they are afraid the hospitals will be overwhelmed by the newly-increasing number of COVID-19 patients in addition to normal health crises.

"We need to make sure that there's beds and hospitals and staff in hospitals available to take care of people who don't just have COVID-19, but...all of those other conditions," said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, chief state epidemiologist for the Texas Department of State Health Services, in an interview with local KRIS-TV. "As we see hospitalizations increasing at this rapid rate, we are afraid that we're going to stress hospitals to the point that they can't take care of some of those other people who are coming in to the hospital for a stroke or a heart attack or any number of other things."

Newsweek reached out to Texas Department of Health officials for additional details about the Delta variant surge or for any more information on what hospitals plan to do to meet the skyrocketing patient numbers.

Fall Surge
Hospitals across the country are facing a surge of patients and a shortage of ICU beds. Medical staff members check on a patient at the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit of United Memorial Medical Center on November 8, 2020. Go Nakamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images