Houston hospital preparing for dark holiday season amid COVID-19 pandemic

HOUSTON - A Houston hospital is preparing for what it believes will be a dark holiday season. "In the last two hours, I have admitted four patients from the emergency room with COVID," said Dr. Joseph Varon with United Memorial Medical Center on Friday. 

He expects the increase will be because of large holiday gatherings. "Next week, we are very concerned to the point where, as of this morning, we are at capacity at the hospital," Dr. Varon added. "And, I just opened two additional wings of the hospital just for COVID patients." 

Currently, about 20 percent of the COVID-19 patients are from El Paso. "I admitted a woman the other day that had been on a respirator with a tube in her throat for one week in the emergency department at the University Hospital of El Paso and waiting to get a bed because they are so full there," he explained. However, in the last week, he says the largest influx of patients has been from the Houston area. Dr. Varon says earlier in the pandemic about half of the patients were coming in very sick. 

 "Now, over 80 percent of patients coming in are very, very sick," he pointed out. He says people are waiting too long to seek treatment. He blames pandemic fatigue, fear of catching COVID-19 at the hospital, and, he says, people's anticipation of a "magic vaccine." "It is a lot of the time that's going to elapse between the time the vaccine is out there and the time that 60 percent of the population gets vaccinated," Dr. Varon noted. With people waiting until their symptoms severe, Dr. VarĂ³n says that means more intense treatment and longer hospital stays. In turn, that overwhelms resources and staff. As of Friday, Dr. Varon says he has worked 253 days straight and his staff is exhausted, too. "My nurses will start crying in the middle of the day," he said. "Let's say my nurses have been very busy with this patient and, suddenly, they know they have three more waiting to come in." 

He says what keeps him and the staff going is just knowing people's lives depend on them. "The message is very clear. Your healthcare providers are getting tired, are getting exhausted. Resources are starting to get limited. If you have any symptoms that sound like COVID, call your doctor, go to the hospital. The earlier we get you, the better off we are. We have treatment options." Dr. Varon says in the past nine months, four staff members have gotten COVID-19.