Inside a Houston hospital's COVID-19 unit as numbers surge

In the last few weeks, more and more Coronavirus patients have arrived to United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) for urgent help.

According to Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joseph Varon, their beds are estimated to between 90-95 percent full.

“People are dying because [they’re] taking this as a political situation,” said Dr. Varon.

The 117-bed hospital had 58 beds for COVID-19 patients as of last Thursday. According to Varon, they recently had to transform 32 of the 117 beds into an additional COVID-19 unit. Now, 90 of the 117 beds are designed for Coronavirus patients. This, after some patients had to previously wait for COVID-19 beds to become available.

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“We are absolutely full,” said Dr. Varon. “This is our last-ditch effort to try to accommodate the number of patients that we have. This used to be an old ward. Now, we’re turning it into just Corona.”

Some of the nurses and doctors at UMMC have worked more than 100 days straight. The hours are long and grueling. Workers are required to wear layers of protective equipment to prevent getting sick. According to Varon, only one of their full-time staff members has gotten sick with Coronavirus so far.

More than a week ago, ICU Nurse Tanna Ingraham started noticing COVID-19 symptoms. Ingraham says she became worried when she lost her senses of smell and taste.

“If it was a hoax, I wouldn’t be here,” said Ingraham. “I wouldn’t feel like I was going to die. I’m still having difficulty breathing and in pain. It’s not a good time for me to get sick.”

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Ingraham isn’t sure how she got COVID-19, but she’s anxious to get back to work. While hospitals create more space for Coronavirus patients, nurses and doctors are becoming even more needed.

“It’s killing me first of all,” said Ingraham. “I belong out there. I don’t belong in here.”

Everyone taking care of COVID patients wears multiple layers of PPE. Double gloves, masks, a shield, and a photograph attached to a string. Dr. Varon hopes the photos create a better environment for patients.

“I want to make sure patients know who is taking care of them,” said Dr. Varon. “Not just a monster that comes in wearing this spacesuit.”

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There are a wide variety of Coronavirus patients at UMMC. While some are attached to respirators, others feel better and are going home.

“We do everything we can for patients to not be on a respirator,” said Dr. Varon. “Everything.”

Gaylor Duval agreed to speak with us while he was preparing to go home. Duval had been at UMMC for his COVID-19 treatment for 13 days. Coronavirus patients are not allowed to have any visitors inside the hospital.

“[It was] emotionally challenging,” said Duval. “Very frightening. It’s a part of life.”

“We’re all exhausted,” said Dr. Varon. “Everybody is tired [and] wet because of how hot it is inside. We’re doing our best to help people. We’re truly trying.”

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