Despite this, Abbott said he and other state officials are confident there is no shortage of hospital bed space available for Texans in need of care. The state has 14,993 beds available as of June 16, according to John Zerwas, the University of Texas executive chancellor for health affairs.
“The message is that we are seeing an increase in the number of COVID patients in the state,” said John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, during Tuesday’s press conference. “We expected this, but we are seeing it occurring at a manageable level. I really want to stress that the continued success is up to the people of the state of Texas.”
Total beds reported in the statewide health care system is nearly 55,000, Zerwas shared. This equates to about 27% of beds being available. Furthermore, there are 1,675 ICU beds available and nearly 6,000 ventilators available, he said.
Hospitals can create a surge capacity of 20% or more above the total reported beds, according to Zerwas’ presentation.
The DSHS worked on dividing the various levels of surge capacity at medical facilities into five levels, with Level 1 being the most critical. The state is currently at a Level 5, at which hospital systems can maintain current capacities, Zerwas explained.
“I hope what this shares is a comforting message in that we have an incredibly robust health care system in the state of Texas that stands ready to serve the communities they are a part of,” Zerwas said.
Abbott said the state saw another record-high case count number June 10, with 2,504 Texans testing positive. However, Abbott said, Texas counts remain low when compared to some other areas of the country, he said.
“Fewer Texans test positive for COVID-19 than residents of any large state in the United States,” Abbott said. “We have the second-lowest death rate of the 25 most-affected states in America. Only about 10% or even less of Texans who test positive for COVID-19 ever even need to go to the hospital in the first place, and when they do, there is a hospital bed there available for them to be treated.”
Abbott said there are several factors contributing to this spike. One is that as testing in nursing homes and jails and prisons is underway, positive case counts are coming back in aggregated batches, resulting in spikes in some areas of Texas. Jefferson County, for example, reported 537 positive cases in one day, 520 of which came from state and federal prisons located in the county, Abbott said.
Another factor is tghat as the phased reopening of the economy is happening, more cases in people under 30 years old are occurring.
“This typically results from people going to bar-type settings. It’s hard to tell exactly where those people contracted COVID,” Abbott said. “It could be Memorial Day celebrations. It could be a bar-type setting. It could be some other type of gathering. All we know is that because these people are testing positive at a higher rate who are age 30 and younger, that informs us about strategies to take to make sure we are able to reduce the number of people testing positive.”
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued a warning June 15 to bars and restaurants serving alcohol that if there are violations of state orders, there will be a 30-day suspension of their liquor license. A second violation would result in a 60-day suspension, Abbott said.
As the state continues to open up, Abbot said he believes we have come a long way since March or April.
“We are better prepared to handle COVID-19 today than we were back in March and April,” he said. “There are new medical strategies as well as new treatments that are available today.”
Abbott still urged Texans to make safe decisions by staying home when possible, washing hands, wearing a mask and maintaining safe social distance in public.
“Remember, there is what’s called asymptomatic COVID cases, meaning that you may not have any symptoms, you may not know you have COVD and you may still be going out,” Abbott said. “Because you may have it and not know it, that is why it is so important for you to wear a face mask when you go out to make sure that if you happen to be an asymptomatic COVID-19 person, you are doing the right thing by wearing a face mask so that you’re not spreading COVID-19 to somebody else.”
Abbott said as the state continues to open up and more is known about the coronavirus, he is confident Texas can reopen while remaining smart.
“We are now in a situation where we are coexisting with COVID-19, where we do not have to choose between returning to jobs or protecting health care,” Abbott said. “We do have the tools and the strategies in place where we can achieve both of those ends. Jobs can be maintained without jeopardizing the health of the community if everyone follows the safe strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Hellerstedt said the way to both open the economy and keep COVID-19 at bay is to maintain and practice discipline in preventive measures.
“There is some evidence that we see in certain instances that people believe it’s not important for them to take those precautions, and I want you to understand that nothing could be further from the truth,” Hellerstedt said. “We have been successful in Texas in that we have kept COVID at bay for right now in the first wave of COVID. But what that means is on the other side of that first wave, there’s still a majority of people in Texas who did not get COVID-19 and therefore do not have immunity to COVID-19 and could become infected. The possibility that things could flare up again and create a resurgence that would be a stress on our health care system is still very real.”