Inside look: San Antonio Methodist Hospital overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients

'If you want to see August 1, then maybe you should stay indoors and isolate on July 4'

SAN ANTONIO – Texas has seen unprecedented coronavirus numbers in recent weeks. July is not looking to be any better. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state is expected to see nearly 2,000 new hospitalizations per day by the middle of the month. Larger metropolitan cities like San Antonio, Houston and Dallas are beginning to see that influx already and hospitals are started to become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients-- a longstanding fear expressed by experts.

Coronavirus patients crowd some Texas ICUs as Gov. Greg Abbott touts “abundant” hospital capacity

At San Antonio Methodist Hospital, there are three specialized COVID-19 units. An inside look at the precautions shows rooms sealed off and turned into negative pressure chambers. One unit only has 14 of those rooms, all of which are occupied. Nurses and doctors told CNN reporter Miguel Marquez, there is a long waiting list of patients.

Doctor Jeffrey Dellavolpe recalled a recent shift as the worst day so far. He said he had 10 patients and only three beds available.

“They’re so sick that if they don’t get put on, if they don’t get that support, they are probably going to die,” Dellavolpe told CNN. “And just making that decision of who would benefit-- It is a level of decision-making that I don’t think a lot of us are prepared for.”

Dellavolpe says this latest surge is shutting down ideas that the virus rarely seriously effects young people. In the first wave, he said most patients were in their 50s and 60s. Now he says he’s lost track of how man patients in their 20s he has treated.

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Another COVID ward of the hospital is dedicated to expecting moms who have tested positive for COVID-19. Doctor Kelly Morales, an OB/GYN at Methodist, said up to 30% of pregnant women admitted to the hospital are testing positive but not showing symptoms. Methodist may be seeing the beginning of a nationwide increase of women with coronavirus giving birth.

The virus is not typically transmitted in the womb but during the birthing process the risk of infection is greater.

The babies currently in the NICU have tested negative but are considered “suspect positive”. They are kept separate from other newborns.

In addition to a spike in local cases, Methodist is also the last hope for patients across South Texas. The hospital uses a procedure called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). Within minutes, doctors extract blood from the patient, pump oxygen back into the blood and return it back to the heart. The goal of the procedure is to keep patients off ventilators which can be permanently damaging to one’s breathing.

“I think the ventilator really causes a lot of harm. It causes harm in general but certainly causes harm when we’re talking about patients with COVID. Because their lungs are so weak and probably because there are other reasons patients are having trouble,” Dr. Dellavolpe said.

Another program at Methodist Hospital gets patients up and walking as soon as possible to help both mentally and physically.

“We know that when people walk, when people sleep better, when people see bright light they get better sooner. We know all of this. I think on some level we’re having to relearn it with COVID because of our response to it. Obviously we need to keep ourselves safe and keep our staff safe,” said Misha Peter, a Pulmonary Critical Care Physician at Methodist Hospital.

It’s not just the hospitals and health care workers who are overwhelmed. Cleaning and sanitizing these COVID units fast enough has also proven challenging.

CNN reporter Miguel Marquez gets emotional reporting on overwhelming COVID patients at San Antonio Methodist Hospital.

Doctors at Methodist aren’t sure what caused this latest surge but based on what they hear from patients, many believed the worst of the pandemic had passed. With a holiday weekend on the horizon, they warn people to protect themselves.

“I don’t think I have seen anything like this ever. And I would say that if you want to see August first then maybe you should stay indoors and isolate on July 4th,” said Adam Sahyouni, Nurse Manager in Methodist COVID Intensive care unit.


About the Authors:

A San Antonio native currently in her dream job as the executive producer behind KSAT special programming like Fiesta parades, Dia De Los Muertos and the Rodeo special. When she's not prepping for these productions, she's helping run KSAT's social media channels.