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Dallas’ Dwindling ICU Capacity Is ‘Very Serious’

Over the past two weeks, the availability of intensive care unit beds in regional hospitals has hovered between 83 and 60, even though there were nearly 800 ICU beds available early in the pandemic.

According to state data, COVID-19 patients make up 21.1 percent of staffed beds in the area’s hospitals, the highest mark Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council CEO and President Steve Love has ever seen. The 83 beds available are spread thinly over a 19 county area in North Texas. In Dallas County, there were just 16 ICU beds available at one point last week, with only seven in Collin County and three in Denton County.

“We are now running about twice the COVID-19 patients in hospitals as compared to the whole state of Louisiana,” Love says. “This is so very serious.”

The New York Times has a dashboard that echoes the same issues. Of the 25 hospitals around central Dallas, hospital ICUs are 96 percent full. The map says that Baylor University Medical Center, Presbyterian Hospital, City Hospital at White Rock, and several others are 100 percent full. Though hospitals can expand and contract capacity for beds, staffing can’t be expanded so quickly. Earlier in the pandemic, Dallas County had a field hospital set up in the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center, but it was never activated. 

Added capacity and higher patient loads add stress to an already overworked and fatigued healthcare industry. Healthcare workers are experiencing burnout at an increased rate during the pandemic. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association shed light on the issue in August, revealing that more than 30 percent of healthcare workers were experiencing burnout. Of that group, nurses were highest, at 46.8 percent. Pharmacists and radiological technologists were also experiencing burnout more than other groups.

A second COVID-19 vaccine was approved earlier this week, and more doses are slated to head to Texas as the state works through its tiers of healthcare workers and essential employees who will receive the vaccine. However, it will still take months to vaccinate the people they’re treating.

Some perspective: more Americans are dying every 1.5 days from COVID-19 than died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which claimed 2,988 lives. This is the equivalent of 15 Airbus 320 Jetliners, with 150 passengers each, crashing every day, the JAMA research says. COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death in the country, surpassing heart disease, and cancer, which cause 1,700 and 1,600 deaths per day, respectively. These deaths are most likely underreported. Data delays and miscoding could mean that the total number of deaths is up to 20 percent higher, research shows.

“Its lethality may increase further as transmission increases with holiday travel and gatherings and with the intensified indoor exposure that winter brings,” the study says. 

“We continue to experience daily increases in our COVID-19 census in our hospitals and urge people to please wear masks, physical distance, stay out of large crowds and wash your hands frequently,” Love says. “While we are thankful for the vaccines, we have a long way to go to vaccinate the entire population, and we can’t let our guard down. The next six months are so important as all of us need to make sacrifices, especially over the upcoming holidays, so let’s do our part to tamp down this infection. We must limit our holiday activities to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

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