The next two weeks are a critical time for North Texas hospitals. Facilities may have to implement surge plans to increase the number of available beds, said Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.
"In two, two and a half weeks, our volume could be significantly higher than it is now," Love said, "which means we might have to begin surge capacity implementation on our campuses."
He said hospitals could add capacity by putting multiple patients in one room and using recovery areas for elective procedures to house COVID-19 patients. Adding beds onsite is ideal, he said, because existing facilities already have support services in place.
Love hopes North Texas hospitals won't have to turn to surge plans, but the region is seeing shrinking capacity and dramatic spikes in admissions.
Tarrant County officials reported last week that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have more than doubled since June, and this week, Dallas County has seen record high daily totals.
Across the state, hospital admissions have more than doubled over the past two weeks. On Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott banned elective surgeries in more counties to try and preserve bed space for COVID-19 patients.
"One of the things we're looking at there is not only what the amount or number of people in the hospital are today or tomorrow, but how quickly did we get to that number?" said Dr. John Carlo, CEO of Prism Health North Texas.
Carlo, who serves on the COVID-19 task force for the Texas Medical Association, said it's important to understand the lags in this reporting. Most people with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Hospitalizations represent the more severe cases.
Severe symptoms typically take a few days to develop, so by the time the sickest patients are admitted and accounted for, the virus has probably spread even further throughout the community than real-time reports show.
"It would very likely be behind the number of cases of infections that we would see," Carlo said.
While North Texas counties are reporting higher daily totals of positive COVID-19 cases, those numbers don't tell the whole story because testing has become more widely available since the onset of the outbreak.
Public health officials are paying close attention to the positivity rate, which shows the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive. Gov. Abbott previously said anything above 10% would be a red flag. In Texas, the positivity rate this week surpassed 15%.
"There's a lot of coronavirus circulating," Carlo said. "We know a lot of people will have it that are asymptomatic and infectious and will be out and around."
With the state's stay-at-home order lifted, Carlo said individual choices are key to slowing community spread. He encourages people to continue social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting surfaces and washing hands.
Dallas County is reporting more cases tied to large social gatherings like house parties. Health officials have created a color-coded chart, showing the COVID-19 risk level. The county is currently in the red zone, which is the highest risk level and residents are advised to stay home.
Health officials have also rated how risky some common activities are. Getting takeout or going camping are low-risk activities, while attending a big concert or going to a bar are among the most dangerous.
With COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise, Stephen Love with the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council doesn't want people to ignore other urgent medical needs.
"If you have an emergency such as chest pain, or if you have numbness like having a stroke, do not hesitate to come to the hospital," Love said. "We're here to serve you."
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