Explained: The temporary ban on elective surgeries in some Texas counties amid COVID-19 pandemic

Explained: Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order on 'medically unnecessary surgeries'

Workers at St. Luke's Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston wheel a hospital bed as teams prepare to handle more coronavirus patients June 30, 2020.
Workers at St. Luke's Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston wheel a hospital bed as teams prepare to handle more coronavirus patients June 30, 2020. (KPRC)

SAN ANTONIO – Governor Greg Abbott signed two executive orders this week that paused surgeries and procedures deemed “not medically necessary” in several Texas counties that were seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, including Bexar. There are some exceptions, though.

According to the executive orders, pausing non-medically-necessary surgeries was done in an effort to ensure hospital bed capacity and staffing are available for the rapidly gorwing number of COVID-19 patients. The mandate, in effect until Abbott rescinds it, specifically impacts medical surgeries and procedures in the following counties:

  • Bexar
  • Dallas
  • Harris
  • Travis
  • Cameron
  • Hidalgo
  • Nueces
  • Webb

Abbott’s order dictates that all hospitals in those counties, or licensed under Chapter 241 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, “shall postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without (the) timely performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient’s physician.”

However, the order states, that the prohibition on elective surgeries will only apply to any surgery or procedure, performed in “accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice would not deplete any hospital capacity needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster.”

According to Kay Tucker, the director of communications for the Ambulatory Center Association, which represents facilities that provide “same day” surgeries and procedures, while no exact definition of an elective surgery exists, procedures can range from hip and knee replacements to treatments for some cancers.

“It’s probably easiest to talk about what it’s not,” Tucker said. “It’s not a surgery that is needed immediately to save a life, but it can be anything from ear tubes to pain injections.”


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