Texas hits new record for virus deaths as hospitals scramble

Nurses and doctors in the COVID-19 unit at Doctors Health at Renaissance in Edinburg. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune (Texas Tribune)

AUSTIN, Texas – Worsening coronavirus trends in Texas again set another grim milestone Thursday as the state reported more than 100 deaths in a single day for the first time, making this the deadliest week of the pandemic in what has rapidly become one of America's virus hot zones.

In addition to 105 new deaths, Texas also reported a new high for hospitalizations for the 10th consecutive day and the rolling rate of positive tests inched closer to nearly 16% — the highest in the pandemic yet.

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“I gotta tell you, I think the numbers are going to look worse as we go into next week,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told Houston television station KRIV.

The bleak numbers, and uncertainty over when a reversal might come, has hospitals across Texas amplifying calls for more staff and scrambling to make room for new COVID-19 patients filling beds. In Weslaco on the Texas-Mexico border, an emergency room has already set up a medical tent outside with 20 beds, but hospital officials warned that far more are needed.

“We really needed a 1,000-bed field hospital from the federal government yesterday,” said Wesley Robinson, the assistant chief nursing officer of the South Texas Health System.

Capacity has become so stretched, Robinson said, that he estimated the region needed 25 new beds a day to meet demand.

The resurgence of the virus in Texas has put a heavy strain on border hospitals that are smaller and have less life-saving equipment than Houston or Dallas, which are also hard hit but have far more beds to offer. Nearly 60% of the roughly 1,200 medical staff that Texas health officials have deployed to stretched-thin hospitals have been sent to the Rio Grande Valley, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Abbott, who last month banned elective medical procedures in Texas' biggest cities as cases began creeping up again, expanded those restrictions Thursday to hospitals serving more than 100 counties, including some in rural swaths of the state. Texas health officials say more than 11,000 beds remain open in Texas, although availability varies by region.

Texas reported more than 9,600 coronavirus patients in Texas hospitals on Thursday. During the dark early days of the pandemic in the U.S., New York had more than 18,000 hospitalizations at its peak.

"The State of Texas continues to implement strategies to help ensure ample supply of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients,” Abbott said in a statement.

The move to free up more beds is the latest rollback of restrictions that Abbott began lifting in May as he embarked on one of the most aggressive reopenings in America. His reversals, which have included shuttering bars again and mandating face coverings in most of Texas, have been welcomed as long overdue by Democratic leaders in big cities but have made him the target of backlash within his party.

The Texas Republican Party on Thursday sued Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner over his decision to cancel the GOP's state convention that had been set to begin next week in the city's downtown convention center. Turner, a Democrat, had previously resisted calls to cancel the convention but by Tuesday said the “public health concerns outweighed anything else.”

A judge in Houston later denied the GOP’s request for an emergency injunction. The party said it would appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court.

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