The number of adult patient intensive care beds available statewide is at an all-time low with 259 beds occupied as of Wednesday, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
As the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the area continues to rise, an east Texas hospital official says “virtually none” of those patients are vaccinated.
On Thursday, state data showed 497 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Trauma Services’ Area G, which includes Gregg, Smith and 17 other counties. That number includes 101 patients in intensive care units and 73 patients on ventilators. In the first half of September, hospitalizations in trauma care area G reached 822, the highest number of one-day COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region since the pandemic began.
Trauma Services Area G also has 13 available ICU beds as of Thursday, and no pediatric ICU beds as of Thursday, according to state data.
This shortage reflects a nationwide trend.
The 259 available ICU beds across Texas are 11 beds fewer than the previous record set in September during the Delta variant surge, according to state data.
ICU admissions for adults with COVID-19 are lower than in previous flare-ups, and fewer of those patients now need ventilators Texas Tribune reports. Smaller percentages of patients who test positive are being admitted to hospital for COVID-19 treatment, hospital officials said, and hospital stays are becoming shorter.
Gregg County reached a pandemic high of new COVID-19 cases in a single month this week. In the first 27 days of January, 4,168 new cases of the virus were reported in the county, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.
That surpasses the 4,099 new COVID-19 cases registered in September 2021.
NET Health also reported a community spread level of 146.26 Gregg County on Thursday, up 36% from a week ago when this data was last updated. At that point, the level was 107.53.
dr UT Health East Texas Division chief medical officer Tom Cummins said unvaccinated patients are being admitted to Tyler Hospital with full-fledged pneumonia, some of whom require ventilator support.
“Virtually none of them are vaccinated,” he said.
While not as severe as the Delta variant, the Omicron variant is just as severe as any other previous COVID-19 wave for unvaccinated individuals.
Cummins said there are beds the hospital can’t fill, and with the high number of people coming to the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms, it takes away the ability for staff to care for other patients.
“It’s made it really difficult for our emergency services to get people to hospitals and emergency rooms and for our staff to take care of people who are really sick,” he said.
To bolster staffing, UT Health East Texas has hired traveling or agency nurses, and the state has made some nurses available to help through mid-February. Cummins said that while this hasn’t eliminated the problem, it has reduced the number of beds the hospital is unable to staff.
Another factor affecting hospitals in the area is the allocation of monoclonal antibodies in the Longview and Tyler area, as treatment has historically had an impact on hospital admission rates and emergency room visits.
“If the virus is doing here what it has been doing in other countries, which is a really high, rapid rate and escalation in the number of people infected, but the vast majority of them have a very mild infection and a very rapid drop in the number of cases again , if that happens then no, the lack of (monoclonal antibodies) is not a big problem,” Cummins said Jan. 4.
More than three weeks later, as hospitalizations at the site continue to mount, Cummins said monoclonal antibody treatment would “certainly help.”
Hospitalization rates are lagging behind positivity rates, Cummins explained. He said there could be a drop in hospitalized patients within the next two weeks as there is a small downward trend in positive cases.
Christ Trinity Mother Frances in Tyler and Christ Good Shepherd in Longview are also seeing increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations, although hospital officials said there has been no increase in severe cases.
Patients tested in clinics, emergency rooms, or at home with rapid tests typically have body aches and cold- and flu-like symptoms, Cummins said. A percentage of them – a rising number in recent weeks – are becoming seriously ill, suffering from a severe cough, shortness of breath and low oxygen levels, requiring hospitalization and oxygen treatments, he added.