• 50°

Abbott speaks on hospital bed capacity in Texas

By Nicole Cobler

Austin American-Statesman

Gov. Greg Abbott entered a room outside of the State Operations Center at 1:13 p.m. He was joined by Dr. John Zerwas, a physician from Richmond who is on a team working to expand hospital capacity and procure needed medical supplies and executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.

The room is surrounded by screens that read: “Texas Hospital Bed Capacity, June 16, 2020.”

“We are here today to let Texans know about the abundant hospital capacity that exists to treat Texans who may test positive for COVID-19.”

Abbott said fewer Texans test positive for COVID-19 than residents in any large states in the U.S. He added that Texas has one of the lowest death rates and few Texans who test positive have to go to the hospital in the first place.

Abbott says two counties, Jefferson and Pecos counties, had an “outsized influence” on the number of Texans testing positive for COVID-19. For example, a federal prison in Beaumont brought back a batch of positive tests for inmates “that all came in at once.”

“I want you to know that this is the same type of analysis that we use on an ongoing basis as we look into each and every county across the entire state of Texas to figure out exactly what is going on,” Abbott said.

Today’s number of positive cases, 2,622, is a new high for Texas, which Abbott says is because of a large number of tests out of an assisted living center in Collin County. Hays County is another example of a large increase, Abbott said.

“It seems like these numbers were batched together and averaged out,” he said.

One day after his comments on 20-somethings testing positive for COVID-19, Abbott reiterated that statement, saying there are multiple reports in certain counties “where a majority of the people who are testing positive in that county are under the age of 30.”

“In addition to those testing positive, are those numbers that you’ve been seeing about an increase in the number of people who are hospitalized because of COVID-19,” Abbott said.

Today’s hospitalization number is 2,518, Abbott said, adding that Zerwas will break down those numbers further. “That’s really a very small percentage of all the beds that are available.”

Abbott says new medical strategies, treatments and additional PPE have better prepared Texas to respond to COVID-19: “We are better prepared to deal with COVID-19 today than we were in March and April.”

The governor recommended that people stay home, which he says is especially true for those with an underlying health condition or who are 65 and older.

He reiterated that Texans should wear masks while out in public because asymptomatic people can spread the coronavirus.

“Businesses have learned safe strategies both for their employees as well as their customers to make sure that they’re preventing the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

Abbott says Texas doesn’t have to choose between either returning jobs or protecting health care.

“We do have the tools and the strategies in place where we can achieve” jobs being maintained without jeopardizing public health.

Dr. John Zerwas gave a presentation on hospital bed availability. There are 14,993 total beds available in Texas out of the state’s 54,844 beds.

Zerwas says he hopes this is a “comforting message” of the state’s health care system.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, says state officials expected this increase in patients, but: “We are seeing it occurring at a manageable level.”

“The possibility that things could flare up again and produce a resurgence of COVID-19,” which would stress the state’s health care system “is still very real,” Hellerstedt said.

Quickly breaking out a few spots around the state from Zerwas’ presentation. Gov’s office usually provides the full Powerpoint.

Dallas-Fort Worth 

24% of the areas 14,383 beds are available.

Houston 

21% of the areas 12,458 beds are available.

El Paso

31% of the areas 1,805 beds are available. There are 97 lab confirmed COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

Amarillo

41% of the area’s 1,038 beds are available.

“This is where we had some issues with our meatpacking plants,” Zerwas says, adding that it’s no longer a “hotspot” for the coronavirus.

San Antonio

26% of the state’s 5,799 reported beds are available to COVID-19 patients.

Austin

28% of areas’ 3,250 beds are available. Around 137 COVID confirmed patients in the hospital, Zerwas says.

Abbott wrapping up before taking questions: “Even though there are more people hospitalized, we still remain at the lowest threat level to our hospital capacity.”

The governor says Amarillo is an example of how the state can deploy a number of strategies to decrease positive cases and hospitalizations in hotspot areas.

Asked about whether an in-person GOP state convention is still a good idea, Abbott said it’s evaluated with the same methodology used for stadiums: “There is the ability to have people gather as long as safe protocols are used.”

And Abbott confirmed that he recently spoke to college athletic directors about the best way to move forward with fans.

Abbott reiterated that masks are necessary in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, although local governments can’t use their authority on those violating social distancing guidelines.

“Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach,” Abbott said, adding that he believes Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wants to do just that.