Some Houston hospitals reaching plateau with COVID-19 patients, but worry about Labor Day gatherings

Hospitals are bracing for the possibility of another uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the coming weeks because of Labor Day holiday gatherings and schools opening.

In the last couple of weeks, overall hospitalizations in the Houston area have plateaued, but at very high levels. The Texas Medical Center reports daily average hospitalizations have remained stable since mid-August but they still have the highest level ever in the pandemic.

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Dr. Timothy Harlin with UTMB Health System says their 4 hospitals have plateaued because they no longer have any capacity.

"That number is a little misleading because we're denying hundreds of transfer requests because we don't have enough room so that number could be much, much higher," Harlin explained.

He doesn’t expect hospitalization rates to decline anytime soon.

"We have very sick patients. They are younger. I've had radiologists describe it as their lungs look like cement. I don't know how else to raise the alarm or get people's attention," Harlin emphasized.

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Additionally, he says about 90 percent of all the patients are unvaccinated.

"We always stand at the ready and are bracing ourselves for a potential uptick but are hoping that the messages to protect yourself with masks and to get vaccinated are starting to sink in," said Dr. Ann Barnes, Chief Health Office with Harris Health System.

Harris Health System operates Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals. On Friday, wait times in their emergency departments were upwards of 11 hours. Barnes reports they have just over 180 COVID-19 patients — nearly 10 times more than in May.

As of the end of last month, about 95 percent of them are unvaccinated. Barnes says the staff is exhausted.

"There’s just fatigue and hardship by seeing and more and more young people now get sick from something that could be prevented," Barnes concluded.

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