Texas hospitals face staffing shortages as COVID hospitalizations double

State & Regional

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas continues to break records this week. On Tuesday, the state reported the positivity rate hit a record high for the 11th day in a row, sitting at 34.4%.

While positive case counts are no longer the best metric to gauge the pandemic, hospitalizations in the state have also doubled in just 10 days.

Meanwhile, hospitals statewide are experiencing staffing shortages.

“At this point, we have rooms where we could put people, but we don’t have enough staff to to match up, we are pretty close to the point where we wouldn’t have enough rooms either,” Dr. Rodney Young with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo said Tuesday.

It’s the same problem in Dallas.

“We’ve got vaccinated healthcare workers that unfortunately get to omicron variant. And then they have to isolate which further strains the existing workforce,” Dr. Stephen Love with the DFW Hospital Council said this week.

And in Austin, too, Dr. Desmar Walkes said Tuesday, “The hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages.”

Doctors worry the initial messaging that the omicron variant is less severe has Texans letting their guards down.

“If we all get an illness, even if 90% of us have a relatively minor experience of it, that few percentage of folks that are less fortunate, and have a more severe illness, that is enough to overwhelm the healthcare system, particularly when you factor in what we were discussing that we have staffing shortages,” Dr. Young explained.

Over the past 10 days, from December 23 to January 2, hospitalizations increased by 99%. During a 10-day period at the beginning of the Delta surge, COVID hospitalizations increased 76%. Given similar COVID hospitalizations during each, these rates are relatively similar.

(Eric Henrikson/Nexstar Photo)

But during the Delta surge, it took 26 days for the positivity rate to double, from 9.28% on July 15, to 18.7% on August 9. With omicron, it only took 10 days to double from 9.18% on December 13, to 19.95% on December 23.

(Eric Henrikson/Nexstar Photo)

“The modeling numbers are more concerning now than they were even with delta because of the high infectivity,” Dr. Young said, “The data we’re looking at suggests we’re going to see more hospitalizations and greater staffing shortages than we have faced with prior situations.”

The solution, though, remains the same: mask up, get vaccinated and get boosted.

“If there’s a silver lining in it, it may be that because it’s coming at us like a tidal wave that hits us, it will likely hit us in a short period of time. The next few weeks are going to be critical. And there’s still time to impact that,” Dr. Young said.

Dr. Ogechika Alozie in El Paso, with Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force, said he thinks it’s too early to tell where we are in this current surge.

“The numbers that you get are always going to be delayed. And we are in the midst of Omicron exploding across the country, and now across the state of Texas,” Dr. Alozie said. “It’s hard to tell where we are in this. And I think part of that is the surveillance, we don’t have the greatest surveillance.”

He agrees, though, the best solution is to assess your own risk, mask up, and get vaccinated.

“The risk to a 5-year-old is not the same as a 40-year-old is not the same as an 80-year-old. Each of those individuals will need to identify what makes them at risk, what to avoid and how to deal with it. I personally and professionally think the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated,” Dr. Alozie said.

Right now, five of the state’s 22 Trauma Service Areas are report more than 15% of patients in their hospitals have COVID.

That used to be a trigger for local counties to roll back business capacity, but the Governor took that power away beginning in March 2021, as vaccines were more readily available.

Tuesday, the Governor received a briefing from the state’s health department and Texas Division of Emergency Management on the state’s response to rising COVID cases.

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