Houston area on track to overwhelm hospital ICUs as coronavirus cases surge
06/24/2020 // Cassie B. // Views

Many experts warned that ending the lockdown too soon would lead to a surge in coronavirus cases, and that’s precisely what is now unfolding in Texas.

The state reported 3,280 new cases on Monday, bringing the total for Texas to 114,881. Houston is one city that is already struggling to keep up with the surge in cases, and it’s not likely to slow down any time soon.

A model from an epidemiologist at Baylor College of Medicine shows the area is on track to hit a peak of 2,000 daily hospitalizations by the middle of July, which is less than a month away.

This would mean a rise of nearly 50 percent over the levels currently seen there, and the intensive care units in the region would be overwhelmed by such as high patient count.

In fact, City of Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse has said that several hospitals in the area are already operating either at capacity or over it. Moving patients to facilities in other areas would be off the table if the trend continues as they would likely also be struggling to stay on top of their own local cases.

The 25-county area that is anchored by Houston has been setting record after record – nine times in 11 days – for new COVID hospitalizations, with Sunday’s number reaching 1,847 patients.

ICU usage, meanwhile, has gone up to 89 percent, with the Texas Medical Center cautioning that its system could use up its base intensive care capacity in two weeks. And while the number of tests for COVID hasn’t changed, the rate of people testing positive has tripled in recent weeks to hit 9 percent.


Authorities have expressed concern that people are mistakenly interpreting the end of the stay-at-home orders as a signal to get back to their normal lives. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner remarked that all the progress made by the shutdown this spring was being undone by the current carelessness we’re seeing.

He said: “All of the good work that we did, shutting down, closing conferences and conventions … we’re wiping away the success that we collectively achieved, and the sacrifices that people made in March, April and in May."

That is why it’s absolutely essential for people to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks when they go out in public.

The Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, Dr. Peter Hotez, said that if the current trajectory continues, Houston could become the country’s hardest-hit area overall.

Experts have also said that Houston could see another shutdown. Even if there is no officially mandated lockdown, many businesses could close their doors if their workers get sick. In fact, this is already happening, with 15 restaurants in Houston announcing temporary closures over the weekend due to employees testing positive.

Lack of social distancing driving surge in cases

Harris County Public Health Executive Director Umair Shah identified the march in honor of George Floyd that took place on June 2 as one driver behind the surge. The rally saw more than 60,000 people convening in downtown Houston. He also cited a “layering effect," with each graduation ceremony, family picnic and protest causing the virus to spread invisibly, with many people not seeing symptoms for a week or longer.

One aspect of the current surge that is particularly noteworthy is the higher rate of Texans under the age of 30 who have been testing positive for the virus. Experts say that is because this age group is more likely to attend social gatherings. While older people have become more vigilant, younger people are either careless or just more confident that they’ll be able to fight the virus off, epidemiologists have said.

These scary statistics coming out of Houston show us exactly what can happen when people become complacent and let their guard down. Although a lot of stay-at-home orders have now expired, that does not mean that the threat is over. Wearing a mask when you go out in public protects yourself as well as those around you, and it’s a low-effort way to reduce everyone’s risk and help ensure hospitals have the capacity and staff needed to help people who need emergency care for whatever reason.

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