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Texas Medical Center hospitals preparing for an unprecedented surge in COVID patients

Doctors in the Texas Medical Center are concerned, saying hospitals are already stretched thin. They said they fear it will only get worse.

HOUSTON — Texas Medical Center doctors are concerned. They said hospitals are already stretched thin and things are so bad they’re asking people to stay out of the ERs if they’re not in dire need.

On Thursday, the Houston Health Department reported an unprecedented increase in our wastewater. The COVID levels are 320% higher than last July. Health officials said the wastewater numbers predict where we’ll be weeks in advance. That’s why many hospitals are getting prepared for even worse conditions.

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

Houston Methodist is opening areas that had been closed and putting them into service again.

"We have created new areas at the hospital to fit patients in. Whether those are areas used by different parts of the organization we are turning them into inpatient beds," Executive Vice President of Methodist Hospital Roberta Schwartz said.

They’ve also been actively hiring more employees and slowing down surgery volume.

"We would encourage you not to come to the emergency room unless you absolutely need to. They are fuller than possibly seen before," Schwartz said.

The Harris Health System said it's already maxed out. That includes Ben Taub and LBJ hospitals. The system said it's making room for more stretchers in hallways near nurses' stations. But their biggest problem is staffing.

RELATED: Harris Health System in 'crisis mode' without enough staff to deal with increase in patients, CEO says

"We are turning every stone and identifying agencies that can provide nurses," Chief Medical Executive at Harris Health System Ann Barnes said.

Even if the county wanted to step in and create a field hospital, their hands are tied by the medical worker shortage.

"Right now there is the nursing shortage," Dr. David Persse said.

Doctors said they’re concerned because last year there were measures in place that were helping reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as mask mandates and stay-at-home orders. This time around, there are no such measures.

Harris Health System said it has reached out to the state and federal government for help.

The bottom line is they’re asking patients to reach out to their primary care doctor first and to only go to the ER if it’s actually an emergency. Expect 24-hour waits.