Hospital leaders react to lowering of Harris County COVID-19 threat level

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo calls the COVID-19 vaccines "a game-changer" and one of the main reasons the county is lowering its COVID-19 threat level.  

The Texas Medical Center reports significant decreases in the number of hospitalizations. 

FOX 26 reached out to local hospitals, both large and small, to compare how COVID-19 hospitalization look now compared to the peaks last summer and during the winter holidays.  

Houston Methodist

Dr. Roberta Schwartz, Executive Vice President with Houston Methodist, reports during both peaks of the pandemic, daily hospitalizations were about 750 patients across all their hospitals. Now, she says, there are about 150 COVID-19 patients.

She hopes with people continuing to get the vaccine, the low numbers will continue to decline.

She also agrees with Hidalgo in lowering the threat level.  

"What we've told people is with vaccination comes a level of freedom," Schwartz noted. "And, I'm not encouraging people to go back to the way we were before. We're not there yet but we are in a different place than we are a few months ago and certainly a year ago."

Memorial Hermann

Memorial Hermann issued the following statement to FOX 26:

We are pleased to see COVID-19 cases trending down in the Greater Houston area and hope this trend continues. We currently have less than 250 COVID-19 patients throughout our system. These numbers are encouraging and we believe the community receiving vaccinations has contributed to this positive trend. We encourage everyone to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves. Memorial Hermann welcomes all members of the community, 12 years of age and older, to receive their free COVID-19 vaccine this Friday and Saturday at 2929 Unity Drive, Houston, TX 77057. An adult must accompany minors (12-17 years of age) to their vaccination appointment. Walk-ins will be accepted. However, if you would like to schedule an appointment, please click here to complete a vaccination verification form:

Harris Health System

Harris Health System operates Ben Taub and  Lyndon B. Johnson Hospitals.

Dr. Ann Barnes, it's Chief Medical Executive, says during the peak of the pandemic they had nearly 200 COVID-19 patients. Now, she says, the numbers are in the 20s.

"Everybody is relieved that we have seen numbers come down. I definitely think that vaccination efforts have made a huge impact in reducing the number of individuals who get sick and get so sick that they would require a hospitalization or an ICU stay," Dr. Barnes told FOX 26.

She believes Hidalgo's move is reasonable.

"I think this is a reasonable time given the difference in hospitalizations and community transmission to evaluate where we are as a community," she added.

United Memorial Medical Center

Although a small hospital, United Memorial Medical Center was extremely busy during the peaks of the pandemic.  

Dr. Joseph Varon, Chief of Critical Care, says they had about 7 COVID-19 admissions a day during the peaks versus about 1 to 2 a day now.

His biggest concern now is for the unvaccinated, younger population.

"What has changed now is the demographics," he explained. "The number of people that we are getting below the age of 40 is quite high. What is very worrisome is that most of these people are extremely ill so the severity of illness seems to have gone up [among that age group].  

Dr. Varon says he is concerned the unvaccinated will resume pre-pandemic social activities and that could lead to another small spike.

"My concern is that the CDC already saying 'throw away the masks', now the county judge is going to say that things are getting better, and people may drop their guard particularly those who have not been vaccinated. That is a concern that can get us in trouble," he noted.