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July 13, 2020 -- Hospitals are running out of space for COVID-19 patients in states in the South and West that have seen a recent surge in coronavirus cases, which means turning away ambulances, long waits in emergency departments and an overflow of morgues.

In Texas, public health officials are warning about a “replay” of what happened in New York this spring when hospitals struggled to handle thousands of COVID-19 deaths, according to a special report by ProPublica and NBC News.

Houston hospitals are treating COVID-19 patients in their emergency rooms as they wait for additional intensive care beds to open, and hospital staff have told emergency responders that they can’t accept new patients safely, the news outlets reported. A dozen of the city’s emergency departments have hit or neared capacity about three times as often as compared to the same time in 2019, and hospitals have diverted patients to other hospitals outside of Houston.

“We are adding more capacity, but we are absolutely stretched now, and if it keeps going this way, we’re going to run out of room. We’re going to look like New York,” Jamie McCarthy, MD, an executive vice president and emergency room physician at Memorial Hermann Health System, told the news outlets.

Florida hospitals are also facing capacity concerns. As of Sunday morning, more than 7,300 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, according to data from the state’s Agency of Health Care Administration. More than 50 hospitals are at max capacity and have no ICU beds available, according to WFLA, an NBC affiliate in Tampa.

Another 435 people were hospitalized overnight on Friday, the news station reported, marking a new record.

“You know, we’re putting ourselves at risk and other people aren’t willing to do anything and in fact go the other way and be aggressive to promote the disease. It’s really, it’s really hard,” Andrew Pastewski, MD, medical director of the ICU at Jackson South Medical Center in Miami, told Reuters.

Arizona hospitals are reaching capacity as well, and some have sent patients to other states, according to NPR. Several major hospital systems are in “emergency contingency mode,” the news outlet reported, and are bringing in hundreds of nurses from outside of the state for backup.

Abrazo Health in Phoenix has ordered refrigerated storage for overflow as morgues reach capacity, according to Fox 10 Phoenix. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office is also acquiring coolers and extra staff since the office is “currently near capacity for body storage,” the office told the news station.

Other states are preparing for hospital surges as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the South and West. The five largest hospitals in Mississippi ran out of ICU beds last week due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the Associated Press.

“Mississippi hospitals cannot take care of Mississippi patients,” Thomas Dobbs, MD, the state health officer, told reporters on Thursday, according to the Mississippi Free Press.

Hospitals on the Gulf Coast, in particular, are worried about hurricane season and the combination of COVID-19 surges and a natural disaster.

“It’s going to be a New York situation,” Alan Jones, MD, a doctor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said on Thursday. “We’re going to be in a parking lot trying to take care of people, and we can’t do it. And if a hurricane hits, I’m quitting.”

Show Sources

ProPublica and NBC News, “‘All the Hospitals Are Full’: In Houston, Overwhelmed ICUs Leave COVID-19 Patients Waiting in ERs.”

Florida Agency of Health Care Administration, “Hospitalizations with Primary Diagnosis of COVID, Last Updated 7/12/2020, 10:25 a.m.”

WFLA, “Florida coronavirus: 52 hospitals max out ICU capacity as cases increase.”

Reuters, “U.S. sets one-day record with more than 60,500 COVID cases.”

NPR, “Experts Worry About Arizona Health Care System As State’s Hospitals Near Capacity.”

Fox 10 Phoenix, “Abrazo hospitals order refrigerated storage for overflow morgue capacity if needed.”

Associated Press, “Mississippi’s five largest hospitals are out of ICU beds.”

Mississippi Free Press, “‘Mississippi Hospitals Cannot Take Care. of Mississippi Patients’: Five ICUs Full as Virus Booms.”

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