San Antonio hospitals struggle with rising COVID-19 cases

695 residents hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, up nearly five times over early July average

The rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is already causing stress on local hospitals.
The rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is already causing stress on local hospitals.

SAN ANTONIO – As hospitalization numbers continued to shoot up Thursday, driven by unvaccinated residents, hospitals in the San Antonio area are feeling the squeeze.

As of Thursday, there were 695 COVID-positive patients in San Antonio-area hospitals, which is nearly five times as many as the average hospitalization rate at the beginning of July.

“If those kind of rates continue, in a couple of weeks we’ll be in a difficult position, and within a month we could surpass our high of 1,520 that we had back in January. And that will be - it will be a crunch,” Baptist Health System CEO Matthew Stone told KSAT.

Though the numbers are still a long ways off from the high of 1,520 the region saw during the winter spike, the head of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), which oversees the area’s emergency healthcare system, told KSAT on Wednesday there were four parts to what he called “the vortex of pain” that magnified the current numbers, which was 629 hospitalizations at the time.

There were 695 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in area hospitals as of Thursday. The peak for hospitalizations was on Jan. 18 with 1,520. (STRAC)

Hospitals were already seeing increased traffic, anyways, said Eric Epley, and now there’s an influx of COVID-19 patients on top of them.

Additionally, Epley said some of the nurses who left local hospitals to work through the state agency contract, which sent them to hot spots around the state, may not have returned yet. It was a lucrative opportunity for them, he said, which has given them some savings to rely on while a break.

Plus, Epley said the ready reserves of hospital staff hospitals could rely on through the state contract earlier in the pandemic aren’t available at the moment.

There we are. There’s the pain” Epley said. “And so 629 feels like 1,000 or whatever.”

Earlier in the pandemic, so-called “elective” surgeries were delayed at hospitals in order to free up capacity. Though neither Baptist Health System nor University Health said they were delaying any surgeries at the moment, that precaution isn’t off the table.

University Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bryan Alsip said they are already thinking about how that might work if they took that step.

“If things continue on the current trajectory, it’ll be sooner rather than later,” Alsip said.

One hospital, at least, hasn’t been feeling the pinch yet - the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. However, Pediatrician-In-Chief Dr. Elumalai Appachi said they are seeing more adolescents going to the ICU with COVID-19 than they did during previous spikes - something he said could be linked to the Delta variant being more virulent.

These are children who are old enough to get the vaccine, he said, but who haven’t. Now they’re in the hospital, requiring oxygen or even a ventilator.

We saw some really sick adolescents during December, January time, but they usually had a lot of complications underneath, meaning extremely obese children who had severe diabetes, children who had underlying neurological disease. They were the ones who were severely affected during earlier pandemic. Now, we are seeing reasonably healthy children coming with serious COVID illness who are not vaccinated,” Appachi said.

However, he’s also worried about younger children, too, who he said can suffer from multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) after exposure to COVID-19.

I think we will be seeing more MIS-C kids in the next month or two. This is the illness which happens after COVID exposure. It affects all your organs, heart, lungs, liver, and they come in quite sick,” he said.

Though things at the Children’s Hospital aren’t strained at the moment, Appachi said he’s worried they could get worse, especially with summer travel.

Appachi recommended parents get their children 12 years and older vaccinated.

“And as soon as the approval comes from FDA, we should start vaccinating our younger children,” he said.

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About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.