Hospital Officials Eyeing COVID-19 Cases, Capacity With Holiday Season

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With the holiday season in full swing, hospital officials are keeping a close eye on the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospital capacity.

Dr. Gary Bonacquisti, chief medical officer at Texas Health Resources in Rockwall, said they have “far surpassed” their summer peak. As of Thursday, the facility was treating 39 COVID-19 positive patients. They are also treating patients “under investigation” for COVID-19.

“When you reach this level of illness in our small facility with 39 positive COVID patients, our staff is going to be strained. Our respiratory therapists are going to be strained. Our techs that help our nurses on a constant basis are going to be strained,” Dr. Bonacquisti told NBC 5 Thursday. “Our hospital is relatively small compared to the other hospitals in Texas Health Resources with only 60 licensed beds. We’re persistently over the last seven to 10 days holding significantly more than that.”

In a message from the facility president Cindy Perrin published Wednesday, Perrin said their hospital was operating at 120% capacity. Of the six ICU beds, Dr. Bonascquisti said five are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“We have literally had virtually zero ICU beds, probably for the last three weeks now. If we do have one open, it seems to get immediately filled within hours. There’s been very few times when I can actually look at our report and see that ICU beds are not completely occupied,” Bonascquisti said. “While certainly a minority of people get severely ill with this virus, I think the message is the more people that are getting ill at one time, you’re going to see significantly increased numbers of those who become critically ill and require hospitalization.”

In an interview earlier this week, Texas Health Resources’ CEO Barclay Berdan warned its intensive care beds could be “maxed out” in one week. Patient counts at the facilities are up 75% since July, Berdan said.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, health officials were pleading with the public to avoid large gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Raul Reyes, Jr. recovered from the illness late last month. Living with diabetes, he said he was concerned given his underlying health condition. He was admitted to UT Southwestern on Oct. 12 and released on Oct. 27, Reyes told NBC 5.

His father was admitted as well but did not stay as long. Reyes said he went back to the hospital this week.

“Last night, he went to the ER for pneumonia and they’re going to keep him there for observation. My dad is one of those individuals who doesn’t get sick. Even when he gets sick, he says he’s not sick, so just the spirit of him is different,” he said. “We were supposed to have Thanksgiving tonight and everybody was supposed to swing by and pick up their plate. Even though that’s still going to happen, that’s not the same thing knowing that your father is in the hospital.”

While this Thanksgiving will be different, Reyes said his time in the hospital has given him new perspective.

“Life has a way of showing you how fragile you really are,” he said. “Celebration of family is preservation of family. Preservation of life. If you don’t have life, what family can you celebrate?”

Dr. Bonascquisti said the community plays a role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Masks work if everyone wears them, Bonascquisti said.

“This has been documented in the New England Journal of Medicine, in Lancet based on the animal models with COVID, the level of inoculum you receive when you first get infected has a lot to do with the severity of illness. If you have a very low inoculum, if the person that you’re talking to is sick and they have a mask and you have a mask, even if it’s a surgical mask or a three-layer fabric mask, you’re reducing that viral load you’re inhaling,” he explained. “And I think the other falsehood that is out there is you can’t get infected if you’re outside. I cannot tell you the number of patients that I have treated over the last several months, that the only contact they had with another family was at an outdoor gathering at a neighbor’s house. One person got sick. Next thing you know, six people got sick.”

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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