Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas is expected to again need a fourth ward for COVID-19 patients at the county hospital due to a growing number of people needing acute medical care. Meanwhile, medical experts continue to urge people to get vaccinated as soon as possible since the vast majority of coronavirus patients at the hospital are unvaccinated.
Dr. Joseph Chang, chief medical officer at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, told NBC 5 Friday afternoon that the continued spread of the surging delta variant is requiring the hospital to make available more resources dedicated to caring for patients sick with COVID-19.
The vast majority of those patients, Chang said, are unvaccinated.
Between January and July, Chang said roughly 1,100 people were admitted to Parkland with COVID-19 and that only 27 of those patients had been vaccinated. Of the 27, only seven required treatment in the hospital, and none of the seven were admitted to the ICU or died. The other 20 patients, Chang said, were completely asymptomatic.
Chang said COVID-19 has become "overwhelmingly a disease of the unvaccinated."
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"Out of all of the patients, the percentage of vaccinated patients is so low as to not even be mentioned. That's dramatic," Chang said.
The rate of vaccinated admissions is going up this month because of the increased transmissibility of the delta variant, Chang said. As the variant continues to spread experts expect to see more breakthrough cases but Chang cautions that people shouldn't take that to mean the vaccine doesn't work.
Even among current patients, Chang said fewer than 10% of them are vaccinated -- or 90% of them are not vaccinated.
The profile of the patients has changed as well. Chang said 40% of the patients in the hospital in January were 65 or older and that 20% were younger than 50. Now, 40% of the patients are younger than 50 while 20% are older than 65.
The vaccine can not only prevent infection in most people, but it can make infections less severe in others resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths.
"Please also remember we have now started school. Our parents of our students are all in the 30 to 40-year-old range," Chang said. "Those young children are also largely unvaccinated. They will bring it home and those 30 and 40-year-olds will get sick. We are in a situation now where if we don't pay attention it's going to be a real problem."
Chang recommended those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to not avoid the vaccine because it's not 100% effective, because of political beliefs or because you may think you won't be one of the unlucky ones who gets sick.
Chang told NBC 5 he wishes he could bring people into his COVID wards for 10 minutes to see the patients fighting to breathe and who will soon need intubation or proning to survive.
"Guys, this is for real. We're not making this stuff up," Chang said, adding that Parkland has jumped from 110 COVID patients to 150 in four days. "People are quite literally looking like a fish out of water in my COVID ward. No one would want to be that individual if they could see it just once."
Speaking of a person who was recently infected with the virus and lost one of her parents, Chang said what you don't want to be is the reason someone you love dies of COVID-19.
He said a woman who was infected with COVID-19 was sick but was not sick enough to be admitted. Her parents, however, also became ill and were both admitted to the hospital and eventually intubated. One of them, Chang said, was withdrawn on care meaning life support measures were ceased.
"She was beside herself with guilt and regretted for so long she did not get herself vaccinated and didn't encourage her parents to get vaccinated," Chang said. "I can only imagine how that young lady is going to go the rest of her life remembering that fact."
During the winter wave of the virus, Parkland opened five COVID-19 units plus a Tactical Care Unit. There are currently three units in operation at Parkland and Chang said a fourth is expected to reopen soon.
"I don't see that there's any way to avoid opening a fourth. The only question is am I going to have to open more? If we have to we will," Chang said. "We're going to do what we can. But at some point, we are going to run out of resources and that's going to be a very, very tough day."
NBC 5's Lizbeth Licon contributed to this report.