ICU Beds Scarce in Texas: 'Your Child Will Wait for Another to Die,' Says County Judge Amid Covid Surge

Ninety-six percent of ICU beds in Texas are occupied as of Saturday thanks to a Covid-19 surge overwhelming the state’s health care system, and at least one city has no ICU beds available for children.

Yet Republican Governor Greg Abbott still insists on banning mask mandates in the state’s schools. And for weeks, he rejected requests for extra health care personnel to help hospitals handle the surge, finally relenting on Wednesday when he announced 2,500 nurses would be brought in from out of state. The governor also drew ire from Texas last weekend when he tweeted a photo of himself playing the fiddle and laughing, right as the surge was worsening across the state.

Abbott’s lack of immediate action has led local municipalities to take matters into their own hands, even if it means defying the governor. And the Harris County Attorney’s Office has filed a lawsuit against Abbott and the state’s attorney general, claiming the governor “misused his authority under Texas disaster laws” when he banned mask mandates.

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“In Dallas we have zero ICU beds left for children,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said at a news conference Friday morning, justifying his emergency order requiring masks in all public schools, a move that bucks Abbott’s ban. “That means if your child is in a car wreck, if your child has a congenital heart defect and needs an ICU bed or, more likely, if they have Covid and need an ICU bed, we don’t have one. Your child will wait for another child to die. Your child will not get on a ventilator.”

Other local school districts—including Houston, Fort Worth and Austin—have also gone against Abbott’s order banning school mask mandates, especially because more than half of children in schools are not yet old enough to be vaccinated.

Masking and other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus are of crucial importance. Intensive care units across the state are suffering as more than 11,000 people in the state are hospitalized with Covid-19, and thirty-eight percent of all ICU beds are occupied by patients with the virus. That leaves only 323 available beds across the entire state. In Austin, the situation is particularly dire, with only seven free ICU beds as of Saturday afternoon, meaning ninety-nine percent of ICU beds in the city are occupied. One man, who was shot six times, had to wait nearly a week for surgery because the Houston hospital where he was admitted was overwhelmed with Covid cases.

The elderly are also getting Covid-19 at increasing rates in the state. The number of nursing homes with active Covid-19 cases has grown by 773 percent over the last month, according to data from Texas Health and Human Services reported by the Texas Tribune. 

The number of cases in the state is so high, some are worried the surge will last at least until the end of this year. “We’re going to be in this at least through the end of 2021,” Dr. Suneet Singh, the medical director of Austin-area clinic CareHive, told the Austin-American Statesman. “The best thing we can do right now is, if you’re not vaccinated already, become vaccinated. Wear your masks to prevent the spread.”

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