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The Houston healthcare community is preparing for COVID-19

I sure hope it’s enough.

With last week’s new certainty that the novel coronavirus is loose and being transmitted in Houston, the region’s medical providers are bracing for the current handful of known cases to blaze into an outbreak like nothing in modern memory.

“We had been saying, ‘It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,’” said Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health. “That’s not the case anymore. It’s now.”

By shutting down events and closing schools, officials aim to “flatten the curve” — to stop too many people from getting sick at the same time and overwhelming the region’s hospitals and medical providers.

Much about the highly contagious new virus remains unknown, and projections of its future behavior vary wildly.

Based on scenarios from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York Times estimated that anywhere from 2.4 million to 21 million people in the United States could require hospitalization, “potentially crushing the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds.”

For most people, the virus is expected to be mild. But up to 20 percent of cases — mostly people over 60 or with underlying medical conditions — may require hospitalization.

If everyone gets sick more or less at once, area hospitals almost certainly would not have enough rooms, critical care or ventilators. In Italy, where officials waited to control the outbreak, an extraordinary surge of cases has left the medical system on the verge of collapse.

Based on Harris County estimates, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said recently that if 30 percent of Harris County residents were to become sick at the same time and 20 percent of those people needed hospital care, medical infrastructure would be overloaded.

“We simply do not have enough hospital capacity to assume all of those people,” Hidalgo said. “We can’t afford to have a sudden spike in cases.”

Even the best case — a slowed outbreak that continues for months — is almost certain to pose significant challenges to the area’s hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices.

[…]

The virus poses particular threats to hospital personnel, who will be working long hours under stressful conditions — and facing coronavirus-related personal problems such as a lack of child care due to school closures. In the worst scenario, seen in China, medical personnel become ill themselves, and their colleagues have to take care of them.

Testifying before Congress earlier this month, Dr. Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine vaccine researcher and infectious disease specialist, urged that special attention be paid to hospital workers.

“If health care professionals are out of work because they’re sick, or if they’re being taken care of by other health care professionals in ICUs, that’s a disaster,” he said.

And just this weekend, two ER doctors, one in New Jersey and one in Kirkland, Washington, have tested positive for coronavirus. Even with the best preventative measures, this thing is going to spread. All we can do – all that we must do – is take every action we can to try to limit how quickly it spreads. That’s our best hope.

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9 Comments

  1. Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-hope, and American optimism (and belief in tech fixes) is generally a strength, but what’s now being done locally is hardly enough, based on what has already been seen about the course of the epidemic in other countries.

    It’s the same virus as far as how it affects the human organism biologically speaking, so the critical variable is transmission, and therefore what people and governments do to prevent transmission, and slow the incidence/rate of transmission at the aggregate level, i.e. in the community. That’s a behavioral problem.

    On the assumption that the virus is already out in the community in Harris County, only drastic behavioral changes at the mass level will slow the exponential surge. Testing does not itself stop the spread and will become largely useless once the virus is already everywhere and mass infection has occurred.

    Many people seem to be under the mistaken impression (i.e., want to think=wishful thinking) that testing is a somehow a “cure”. According to the medical experts, the virus is novel, and there is neither a cure, nor a vaccine. In acute cases, what’s needed is respirator/intensive care, not a diagnostic test, to save lives.

    So testing under such conditions serves a different purpose: identifying the hotspots whence new infections originate. Once the virus is everywhere, however, it’s too late for a hot-spot-focused approach based on delayed test results, what with exponential growth curves already seen in other countries.

    Short of imposing a draconian (selective) curfews to reduce person-to-person contacts (such as in Italy, Spain, and now in Austria), the population could (and should) be urged/persuaded by all suitable means possible — including by cell phone text messages, as is done with tornado warnings and Amber alerts — to refrain from nonessential contacts with other people and to observe the recommended social distancing protocol in unavoidable contacts with other people. The what-to-do (and not) messages should appear on all government website home pages.

    Yes, people should be motivated (scared) into altering their behavior, short of compulsion, and health and survival of the many should take precedence over the health of the economy and the stock market.

    United States is in the enviable position to create money out of nowhere, if necessary (Seigniorage), so the economy will recover eventually for the benefit of the survivors.

    There is of course a trade-off and a potentially high cost for shutdowns and quarantines, but some segments are less essential or time-sensitive than others, such as the civil courts, which are also directly controlled by public officials.

    The Harris County Civil Courthouse, for example, should be closed to the public immediately, not just to jurors. The costs of delay will be low because the effects on most pending civil cases will be insignificant, and new cases are filed electronically through Texas e-file anyhow. Same applies to time-sensitive notices of appeal and all other filings.

    Whether it may please the court or otherwise, a texas supreme court order extending the statute of limitations is not a suitable response to stop the corona virus. The courthouse should be closed. Many municipal courts have done so already.

    The Harris County Law Library has already suspended in-person contact. That’s the way to go short of a complete shutdown.

  2. Brad says:

    Wolfgang,
    please do not gloss over the criminally negligent error of the administration of screwing up the testing that the national public health officials were clamoring for to understand the severity and the way this virus/disease operates. Our country is now weeks behind the curve directly due to the ineptitude of Trump and his clueless son in law Jared Kushner and neo- Nazi senior advisor Stephen Miller.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Brad,

    Don’t gloss over the fact that VERY early on, Trump banned travel from China, leaving us months AHEAD of the curve in terms of response. Remember? Remember when you called him a racist for doing so? Don’t forget about that little tidbit, Brad. It’s too soon for revisionist history.

  4. Brad says:

    Alaska Bill,

    Testing clusterf*** has nothing to do with travel restrictions. Nice try to deflect from the facts.

    You are lying regarding your claim that I made regarding Trump being racist for China travel ban. Print the link to the comment…you can’t because it doesn’t exist. Ban was actually a little helpful, but unfortunately and critically that is like saying you locked the henhouse after the fox was already inside of it.

    There is no health official in the country saying that the ban put our country months ahead of any curve. The man-child Trump’s continued lies and unfactual statements to the country only exacerbated the situation we are in.

  5. Manny says:

    Bill, Trump like you is a racist, whether he had posted any travel bans on China or not.

    Trump has done almost everything wrong and only yesterday did he seem to realize that his shit was not selling, maybe it was the stock market skidding 3,000 points on Monday that finally opened his eyes to what is occurring. Trump said yesterday that the Media was fair and that we should listen to them. Even Trump is ahead of you Bill, you need to follow your leader a little better.

    Remember when you were bragging about Trump and the stock market Bill? Why aren’t you bragging anymore? Trump is responsible for that, just like he and you claimed that the stock markets was going up because of Trump, well it is also him when it goes down. Can’t have it both ways Bill.

    Trump is responsible for the hardships that Americans will suffer, and we can also blame the fools like you that push his greatness. Heck it is so bad now that Mexico wants to keep Americans out to keep out the coronavirus.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    So, Manny, are you right now, officially saying that this is now the Trump economy? Can you get Brad to say that too, so we can accurately judge the next 5 years of Trump magic once this bullshit works its way through in a month or two?

    I’m glad. At least we can all agree that this is not the Obama economy any more. I mean, dude was a straight up lier. “Those jobs just aren’t coming back.”

    [jobs come back]

    Obama: “I did that!”

    LOL

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    *liar

  8. Manny says:

    Bill I said that trump owned the stock market some time ago, u seemed to have forgotten that, as you kept bringing it up, just like trump. Maybe u can remember that I have been saying that we were probably going to have a recession, I also stated that it would probably not start here.

    If u are a praying person, start praying that we can get a handle on that virus, otherwise we maybe looking at a lot of hardships

    We are up to our eyeballs in zombie corporations that can bring down the economy

  9. C.L. says:

    I never thought i’d see the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Magic’ together, let alone in the same sentence, joined together. Con and artist, philanderer and misogynist, cluster and fuck, yes, but never Trump and magic. Kudos, Bill !