HOUSTON - The Army medical task force assigned to assist Houston doctors in the fight against COVID-19 gave FOX 26 a look inside its coronavirus ward at United Memorial Medical Center for the first time since they arrived in Houston several weeks ago.
Army personnel says in the just under a month since they arrived in Houston, they’ve treated roughly 48 COVID-19 patients at UMMC.
The 86-member Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force was dispatched by the U.S. Department of Defense at the request of FEMA and the State of Texas, said Lt. Col. Drew Baird with the Task Force.
“This is where the State of Texas asked for us to set up shop so to speak,” said Baird.
Many of the Army’s COVID-19 patient beds are empty at UMMC.
The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joseph Varon, says the hospital currently has 88 beds allocated to COVID patients, and about 40 of those beds are occupied. The Army is staffing 36 of the beds.
The Army is making its beds available to any hospitals that may be overwhelmed with patients.
“Other outlying hospitals, other outlying emergency rooms that ask for transfer here—we communicate with,” said Baird.
The Army medical team is working in collaboration with UMMC’s doctors, according to Varon.
“A few weeks ago it was a zoo,” said Varon. “At some point in time, I was carrying in my unit close to 45, 50 patients. That’s when the Army came in and really helped us out a lot. They started to take some of the patients and then relieve some of the pressure.”
Varon says out of the more than 300 COVID-19 patients they’ve treated, they’ve had a 95 percent success rate. He uses a treatment method called MATH+, which is a combination of drugs including methylprednisolone, ascorbic acid, thiamine, heparin, and a combination of other drugs.
He says the now controversial drug hydroxychloroquine is among the drugs he uses to treat COVID-19 patients.
“Yes, we have used it,” said Varon. “We know that is a drug that has been politicized up to the wazoo. We have used it. We’ve used it with good success. We know that there is a lot of controversy, but one of the problems that we have is: we use a lot of things. We literally throw the whole kitchen sink at these patients. Because they are so sick. So sometimes you don’t know exactly what makes the difference, but we have used hydroxychloroquine in some of our patients, and they have done well.”
Varon says UMMC uses ventilators as little as possible.
“On COVID we are very careful, and we avoid it like the plague,” said Varon. “We know that once you put that tube in, you’re pretty much signing a death sentence.”
The Army medical task force plans to continue staffing UMMC and taking in patients from any hospitals that need assistance for as long as the State of Texas and FEMA ask them to do so.