Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19 at Levels Not Reached Since January

Experts are not advocating for residents to shelter in place, but do urge people -- both vaccinated and unvaccinated -- to wear face masks

The percentage of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in nearly every hospital region in North Texas exceeds markers set by Gov. Greg Abbott last year that would have triggered safety measures, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The executive order Abbott issued last October that used hospitalization percentage as a barometer is no longer in effect.

Of the seven hospital regions with counties in NBC 5's viewing area, only one -- Trauma Service Area C -- does not meet the mark. TSA C, which is northwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, includes Jack and Young counties.

In Abbott's October 2020 order, when the percentage of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in a Trauma Service Area exceeded 15% for seven or more consecutive days, all non-essential businesses were required to immediately reduce occupancy levels from 75% to 50%. Bars in those TSAs were required to close and licensed hospitals were to discontinue elective surgeries.

The president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, W. Stephen Love, said health experts are "not advocating for sheltering in place," but "think wearing masks in public is not too much to ask."

These were one time seen as mitigation strategies required to curb the spread of disease in Texas, and that was before the virus evolved into the more highly transmissible and more severe delta variant.

According to the order, non-essential businesses included restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, gyms and exercise facilities, museums and libraries, while bars were defined as establishments whose sales were 51% or more derived from alcohol.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is in Trauma Service Area E, which includes 19 counties: Collin, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Erath, Fannin, Grayson, Hood, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Navarro, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwall, Somervell, Tarrant and Wise.

Patients with COVID-19 have taken up more than 15% of TSA E's hospital beds since at least Aug. 9. And every other Trauma Service Area in North Texas, with the exception of TSA C, has been above 15% since at least Aug. 23.

Despite rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Abbott has issued an executive order prohibiting public entities, including counties, cities, school districts and public universities, from requiring masks. He has also prevented county officials from taking any action to restrict traffic inside local businesses.

"The path forward relies on personal responsibility-not government mandates," Abbott said last month. "The state of Texas will continue to vigorously fight the temporary restraining order to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans."

Abbott's office did not respond to request for comment Monday.

Love said it's hard to compare this surge with previous cases increases.

"The delta variant is a gamechanger, so comparing this fourth surge to previous surges is not a valid comparison," Love said via email. "All unvaccinated people are playing Russian roulette with the delta variant. Yes, the delta variant can infect vaccinated individuals but seldom are they hospitalized and generally have a very mild case."

He cited a number of events, like college football games, meetings and conferences, that are meeting in person this year and are not requiring masks for people who are vaccinated as making a "huge mistake."

"Things are not back to normal and I can take you to our COVID-19 units to show you young people dying from the delta variant. Absolutely, nowhere near normal or pre-pandemic activities," Love wrote. "It will be interesting to see how Labor Day behavior impacts the community spread and we are fast approaching flu season. Last year people wore masks which helped stop the flu virus spread, but this year we may see a twin pandemic which would completely overwhelm our hospitals."

Texas ranks 29th in the country with 57.8% of its eligible population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

tsa region map
NBC 5 News
TSA regions in North Texas

Texas' Trauma Service Areas are 22 regional bodies made up of Texas' 254 counties. Each TSA is managed by a Regional Advisory Council that is "tasked with developing, implementing, and monitoring a regional emergency medical service trauma system plan." RACs are made up of healthcare entities and citizens and are not all structured the same, however, they all have the same objectives: "to reduce the incidence of trauma through education, data collection, data analysis and performance improvement."

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