State Responds Quickly to Corpus Christi COVID Surge
Help is on the way. Within hours of receiving an emailed plea from state Rep. Todd Hunter on July 8 about Nueces County's critical COVID-19 situation, the Texas Department of State Health Services answered with a list of what it is sending, including staff, ventilators, and O2 concentrate. The request was sent — and answered — as the record numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were reported to the media in the daily joint city/county news briefing and to the Corpus Christi City Council in a special meeting the same day.
Acting with the backing of the local legislative delegation, Hunter emailed the state asking for a surge response team for the Coastal Bend.
“Please provide a surge team with comprehensive medical and testing to Nueces County,” Hunter wrote to Rachael Hendrickson at DSHS at 12:46 p.m. Wednesday. “Our county has had a huge impact of COVID-19 cases. I just conferred with Senator (Juan) Hinojosa and Representative (Abel) Herrero and we are in total agreement. Thanks for any emergency assistance.”
By 4 p.m., Hendrickson replied that the state had received the email and was working on it. By 8 p.m., resources were on the way, including 16 staff for the Corpus Christi Medical Center expected to arrive by July 10 and 38 staff deployed to join 40 already on site from the state at Christus Spohn Hospital. Another 16 staff have been approved and will soon be deployed to Christus Spohn South.
“I hope this helps,” Hendrickson said. “For the region, we also have forward deployed ventilators and O2 concentrate so we can quickly distribute in the event of any urgent needs. We are coordinating closely with emergency management and the Coastal Bend Regional Advisory Council to remain prepared to activate resources as appropriate to help manage the pressure hospitals are experiencing through the state.”
As the state was deploying resources, Nueces County officials were reporting — and hearing about — the dire state of affairs in the Coastal Bend. At the daily new briefing, Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni reported another eight deaths on Wednesday, following eight deaths the previous day. Positive cases rose by 15 percent in one day to 445 from 388. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number is more likely 10 times higher in the community.
“Because testing information is lagging, because there are asymptomatic people who don’t know they have it, and because not everyone is being tested, the numbers we are reporting are lower than the reality,” Zanoni said.
He added that this assessment was backed by the research scientists at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, who have developed a model for analyzing COVID-19 data.
Hospitalizations rose to 302 on Wednesday from 285 the day before. The backlog of 3,000 patients waiting for testing has been eased with the receipt of new testing materials. The new supplies include those necessary to continue testing samples locally rather than having to send them to state laboratories with longer result wait periods.
At the special City Council meeting, members heard from Annette Rodriguez, the city/county health director, and Hilary Watt, director of the Coastal Bend Regional Advisory Council, on the current COVID-19 state of affairs.
Rodriguez presented figures showing the number of hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive care units have doubled over the past week. Deaths doubled in a 48-hour period. She also reported that 10 nursing homes and five assisted-living facilities are under health monitoring because they have reported two or more cases.
Watt’s remarks pertained to the 19-county South Texas area that includes Nueces County. The regional advisory council oversees 44 hospitals and 250 EMS agencies, receiving twice-daily reports from each and working to ensure staff and equipment are deployed where needed. As the situation changes hourly, her seven-member staff has been severely taxed, she said.
“This has exceeded our regular surge planning,” Watt told the council. “We plan for incidents like mass casualty events that recede in a few days. We all know we are in a completely different ballgame now.”
Area hospitals are nearing capacity and looking for ways to create space for more beds.
“Beds are not our biggest issue though,” she said. “Staffing has become the big issue.”
She acknowledged the new resources being deployed by the state but noted that more is needed.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” she said. “It’s not a lot.”
In taking a bigger, 19-county overview, Watt said she has seen hospitals reach overflow capacity and have to air lift patients to out-of-area facilities. A San Antonio hospital closed its cafeteria to use the space for more beds. Several South Texas hospitals reported eight-hour waiting times in the emergency rooms. One 95-year-old patient who had tested positive for COVID-19 waited for care in an ambulance outside the ER for eight hours and finally went home. He died the next day.
“The valley is in dire straits right now,” she said. “We have federal teams on the ground there, and they are staged and ready to come here if and when we need them.”
She suggested that local officials ask the federal government to send one of its hospital ships to Texas, either the USS Mercy or the USS Comfort. Each are staffed and supplied to handle 1,000 patients.
“I just wanted to float that idea if you have any influence there,” she said.
“The ships could move up and down the coast to the deepwater ports in Brownsville, Corpus Christi, and Houston.”
One council member showing a keen interest in that idea was Michael Hunter, son of state Rep. Todd Hunter.
Whether he asks for a ship or not, Rep. Hunter plans to keep the pressure on the state for more resources.
“We need to push,” he told Corpus Christi Business News. “If we keep surging we will have to make more demands. Right now, they (the state) are putting our request on an emergency timetable, but COVID is exploding every place. We, as the legislative team are going to do all we can to get the help here.”
To follow the latest news on COVID-19 in Corpus Christi, check the Corpus Christi Business News' COVID-19 Resource Page.
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