Are ICU hospital beds really critical?

Daily, we hear of this state or that city recording record numbers of new COVID-19 cases. We are never told the commensurate numbers of new hospitalizations or daily deaths attributed to COVID-19 though. Now, there is a media shift from COVID-19 new cases to ICU bed availability.

Lately, some local areas, like Houston, Texas where I live, are reporting ICU bed crises at various hospitals brought on by COVID-19. The policy in Texas is to reserve 15% of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients and the remaining 85% for non-COVID-19 patients.

The Governor has restricted elective surgeries in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties today. He has also halted the continued reopening phases of Texas’ program to make life normal again. Restaurants can remain at 75% occupancy and all other businesses (including bars) can remain at 50% occupancy.

What we do not hear or see in the media is the true hospital capacity. Higher population density cities have COVID-19 patients approaching 15%, but the rest of Texas is very available when patients needed to be transferred.

There were just over 4,700 COVID-19 ICU beds filled this morning. Texas still has 1,320 ICU beds unoccupied. Within the Houston area, immediate availability of an additional 373 ICU beds can be brought on-line today when needed. On top of that, 504 temporary COVID-19 ICU beds can be created to address any surge situation.

The Harris County (Houston) hospital systems run between 80-90% full daily without COVID-19 entering the picture. Media reports that ICU beds are at or near capacity could be reported any day last year before COVID-19 was even known.

Texas, like other states, can create temporary medical facilities to address local or time-sensitive health needs. I believe the increased numbers of new COVID-19 cases are the result of increased public socialization. People without symptoms feel safe and, unfortunately, are passing the virus on to others. Increased testing is finding ‘new’ cases.

What if we were not increasing the COVID-19 tests? These infected people would not be found in a timely manner and take out of circulation through self-quarantine. There would be an uncontrolled and unknown portion of the population exposed to coronavirus.

Inhibiting or limiting the gradual reintroduction of normal lifestyles and increased testing is quantifying the risk and controlling the spread. We should be testing at a greater rate than we are today. Keeping everyone isolated delays the gradual spread of COVID-19 and increasing herd immunity that is needed to counter the long-term infection of healthy people.

Those most vulnerable to COVID-19 need to be protected. The healthy, young population is the means to gain effective herd immunity to significantly reduce the spread of the disease. Vaccines are not a panacea.

There is a lot of false hope in thinking that a vaccine can halt COVID-19. There will always be an infected person without symptoms that will fall through a crack and expose another and another until you have a small epidemic on your hands again. Testing and retesting is critical for control.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin –


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