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'Each Day It's More And More': Houston Hospital Makes Room For COVID-19 Surge Cases

A medical worker walks past a row of ambulances parked outside Houston Methodist Hospital on June 22. The hospital is treating a current surge of COVID-19 cases.
Callaghan O'Hare
A medical worker walks past a row of ambulances parked outside Houston Methodist Hospital on June 22. The hospital is treating a current surge of COVID-19 cases.

Hospitals in Texas are inundated by coronavirus patients. On Monday, the state reported almost 6,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. That's a record, as cases spike following the state's reopening of bars, restaurants and stores in early May. Because of this latest surge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently reversed the reopening, closing bars and cutting restaurant capacity.

Houston Methodist Hospital — the flagship hospital of the Houston Methodist system — has enough beds, says Roberta Schwartz, who holds multiple executive positions at the hospital, including chief innovation officer. But that's because she's making room at the expense of other services.

"If you look within the hospital, what it looks and feels like here right now is that every day I am clearing out another unit and I am putting in COVID patients," she says. She says she has seen an uptick in cases at the hospital since just after Memorial Day.

Here are excerpts of Schwartz's Morning Edition conversation.

On making room for COVID-19 patients

So when we were at the point where the volumes of COVID were down, we were able to open up many of our other services. And what we found when we opened up a lot of our services is that many people had waited for a very long time to seek medical care and they were very sick. And so we were able to treat many of those patients both in clinics and in the hospital. ... We kind of looked at each other and said we should never do that again. We should never close down all of our services, because it was detrimental to the health of Houston. It was dangerous for people to wait to seek needed care.

And so what's been very hard is to yesterday send out yet another series of notes closing down services further because we have no choice, because we have to transition units into COVID to take care of the population. So do we have the beds? Yes. Fortunately, at this point, we have not had to put up tents or field hospitals, but each day it's more and more.

On seeing videos and pictures from across Texas of people in bars and not social distancing

On one hand, there are so many people who believe that this is not reality, that what you're hearing is made up or false, and I want to take them all and walk them through an ICU to see a husband and wife laying side by side intubated or seeing a 26-year-old with no comorbidities who is laying in a hospital bed for 14 days in an intubated state and say, "It is very real."

There's a little bit of Russian roulette. You could be fine and have a sore throat and walk through this. Or you could end up in one of my units. And you don't know which one you will be.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.