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Nurse shortage comes as COVID cases surge again in Houston

More hospital beds are available in the Texas Medical Center as COVID cases surge, but there aren't enough nurses to staff them.

HOUSTON — Houston hospitals are stretched to surge capacity as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in the area.

RELATED: US averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections a day, up from 11,000 in June

New numbers from the Texas Medical Center COVID-19 dashboard show a weekly average of 3,318 people are testing positive every day and an average of 320 patients are being admitted to hospitals daily.

TMC CEO Bill McKeon said that even though Phase 1 and Phase 2 ICU capacity is still 88% full, hospitals can expand by converting regular beds to intensive care beds.

The problem is staffing the surge capacity beds.

RELATED: Hospitals facing nurse shortage as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb

“The only ones who can be by the bedside of our very sick patients are our nurses. You can imagine the emotional impact it’s had on them. Many have taken other jobs, taken early retirement. We are at a national issue with the nursing shortage,” McKeon said.

He said some nurses are accepting travel positions that pay more. The shortage of nurses is a much bigger issue than beds.

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

COVID-19 patients make up less than 30% of people needing intensive care.

He said the nurse shortage will be our undoing during the fourth wave of the pandemic. As numbers continue to rise week after week, McKeon said the only way to turn it around is for people to step up and get the vaccine.

“If we continue at this rate and allow half our community not to be vaccinated, this will be a very long dark period of our history,” McKeon said.

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