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Houston COVID update: ICU beds filling up as nurse shortage creates staffing problems

Local health officials think it's only going to get worse before it starts getting better.

HOUSTON — Houston-area hospitals are buckling under a surge of COVID-19 Delta variant admissions. Some hospitals have only a handful of ICU beds left, and one has none at all.

Doctors and health officials said what is happening now will soon get worse. They said the number of hospitalizations is rising exponentially.

There were only four ICU beds left in all of Montgomery County on Monday, according to the Montgomery County Public Health District.

There are no beds left at LBJ Hospital in Houston, where tents were erected outside of the building to treat the overflow of patients.

RELATED: 'Crisis mode': LBJ Hospital's ICU at 100% capacity; adding tents for COVID-19 overflow, officials say

“(There are) more admissions to move upstairs to their emergency department than they have hospital beds in their emergency department,” Houston’s health authority Dr. David Persse said. “So they’re all full of admissions plus they have admissions waiting in the hallway.”

Patients are not being treated inside the tents yet.

Nurse shortage

A shortage of nurses across many hospitals is making the surge even worse.

“What is really our chokepoint and vulnerability is the number of nurses we have available to really take care of people,” Texas Medical Center CEO Bill McKeon said. “Patients and non-COVID patients.”

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More than 3,000 people per day are testing positive for COVID-19 in the greater Houston-area region. An average of 320 are admitted to TMC hospitals each day.

RELATED: Nurse shortage comes as COVID cases surge again in Houston

State help

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective surgeries  and said he is requesting out-of-state nursing help from staffing agencies to help manage the patient surge at hospitals.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott asks Texas hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective procedures; urges Texans to get vaccinated

Abbott said he is also directing state health officials to open COVID-19 antibody centers throughout the state to alleviate some of the strain on the hospitals.

Wastewater sampling

Houston’s wastewater sampling has been able to accurately predict future hospitalizations in past COVID-19 surges.

RELATED: COVID-19 in Houston wastewater currently at levels 'never seen before'

We asked Persse what the latest samples indicate.

“They predict by about three weeks what’s going to be going on in the hospitals and the number just keeps going up and up,” Persse said. “So, unfortunately, I don’t see this changing course anytime soon.”

Persse said it's uncertain how near, or far, the region may be from a peak in cases or hospitalizations.

“There’s no way to predict that,” Persse said. “It’s not going to be real soon because the wastewater is not predicting that, but there’s no way to predict that.”

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