‘Feeling Like Death’: Inside a Houston Hospital Bracing for a Virus Peak - The New York Times
Jun 29, 2020 4 mins, 26 secs

As young patients fill new virus wards, Houston Methodist is calling nurses to work extra shifts and ramping up its testing efforts.

Estrada, 37, was fighting the virus at Houston Methodist Hospital after a week of treatments that included an experimental drug, steroids, intensive care and high doses of oxygen.

She probably contracted the virus while attending a dinner with relatives who had also been cautious, she said.

Measures to cope with the surge and to plan for its peak were evident over the weekend at Methodist, which called nurses to work extra shifts, brought new laboratory instruments on line to test thousands more samples a day and placed extra hospital beds in an empty unit about to be reopened as patients filled new coronavirus wards.

Greg Abbott, speaking in Dallas on Sunday, said that the virus had taken a “very swift and a very dangerous turn” in Texas, and that the increase in the rate of positive coronavirus tests, to over 13 percent in the past month from less than 4 percent, was an “alarm bell.” He made the grim assessment after meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Dr.

Many young people had socialized in them, standing close together, not wearing masks, some expressing skepticism that they could become infected.

During the virus’s first peak in April, the majority of patients testing positive in the Methodist hospital system were older than 50.

Nearly one-third of intensive care patients are now under 50, much higher than in the initial coronavirus surge.

The stress on medical institutions burst into public view last week, when Texas Medical Center — a downtown cluster of Houston’s major public and private hospitals, including Methodist — announced that the baseline intensive care unit capacity across its hospitals was full, with 28 percent of beds occupied by virus patients.

The order, however, allows hospitals to continue performing surgeries and procedures that will not deplete their capacity to care for coronavirus patients; some hospital executives and doctors, including ones at Methodist, said they were able to continue providing those services, which they viewed as particularly needed after being halted during the initial shutdown.

In recent days, hospital beds and mobile computers were rolled into an empty, 34-bed unit that had been shuttered and will now be used for coronavirus patients.

The Methodist hospital system, with nearly 2,400 beds in service, includes six community hospitals across greater Houston and the flagship academic medical center downtown.

It sits near other renowned medical institutions including Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas Children’s Hospital, which is opening a unit to treat adult coronavirus patients.

Methodist and several other private hospitals have also agreed to accept virus patients from Harris County’s inundated public hospitals, part of the Harris Health System.

Tritico Saranathan, a charge nurse on one of Methodist’s virus wards, said she had noticed that patients were younger than those first hit by the coronavirus several months ago.

One of the newest coronavirus patients, Jessica Rios, 36, a mother of four with pneumonia, was transferred to Houston Methodist by ambulance from an urgent care center on Saturday.

Her 18-year-old was looking after her 12-year-old, who has severe asthma and has also tested positive for the virus, and her 5-year-old twins, one of whom has cerebral palsy and has tested positive, too.

She said that she has allergies that make it difficult to wear a mask, and that she would sometimes take her mask off in the unit, where one child later tested positive for the virus.

He had come to the hospital to be treated for heart failure, but tested positive for the virus when he had a routine test upon admission.

It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus.

Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals.

An even younger pneumonia patient, Alexander Nelson-Fryar, 25, was in a new ward for 15 coronavirus patients that just opened last week.

He said that he worked training employees at a medical clinic nearby that sometimes saw virus patients.

At Methodist, the majority of the coronavirus patients are in designated medical wards, not in the I.C.U.s.

The length of hospital stays for virus patients at Methodist is about a day and a half shorter this month than it was in April and May.

Faisal Masud, the medical director for critical care across all of Houston Methodist’s hospitals, described the younger virus patients in the I.C.U.s.

“Typically there are definitely 30-year olds, 35-year olds,” he said, adding that the most severely ill young people often are obese or have medical problems such as diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure.

Masud said, some young virus patients came to the hospital extremely sick and died soon after they arrived

Estrada, the mother of three who was being treated for the coronavirus, said she worried that there would be more patients like her

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