Coronavirus: A Texas Medical Center continuing update
At a Friday morning news conference, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo reiterated that the pandemic is not over as Texas reported 50 deaths on Thursday and more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19. In addition, Harris County reported 97 new cases and 1 additional death outside the city of Houston.
“It’s a grim reminder that this virus doesn’t respect dates on a calendar,” Hidalgo said. “It’s impossible to pull a date out of thin air and say to the virus: ‘We’re ready for you to go away now.’ That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. We can’t allow ourselves to be desensitized to what’s happening, to lose our sense of humanity. Fifty Texans—brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, sons and daughters—had their lives cut short yesterday from a single, invisible killer that still lurks among us.”
Hidalgo urged people in Harris County to reopen slowly for the sake of public health.
“If the virus spreads like wildfire and the hospitals run out of space, or are running out of space again, things are going to have to shut back down—again,” Hidalgo said. “If we do the re-opening step by step, carefully, there’s a chance of succeeding by slowly reopening if we’re able to contain and we’re able to test and we’re able to trace.”
“If you’re not essential, as defined by the order I issued or by the governor’s order, and you are not reopen as classified under the governor’s order—the three reopenings he listed—you should be closed,” the county judge said.
She added that she would reissue her order later today to conform with the governor’s order and the attorney general’s clarification.
“Just because you can open, doesn’t mean you should,” she said, also announcing that she was adding another “T” for “teamwork” to her “test, trace, treat” reopening strategy.
“That ‘T’ involves every single resident in Harris County,” she said. “If these doctors and these nurses get overwhelmed, people die en masse. Plain and simple.”
Joining Hidalgo at this morning’s briefing was Esmaeil Porsa, M.D., MBA, MPH, president and CEO of Harris Health System; Umair A. Shah, M.D., MPH, executive director of Harris County Public Health; Marc L. Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist Hospital; and Paul Klotman, M.D., FACP, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine.
“We have managed to flatten the curve and that is great news. I am cautiously optimistic that we may have done well in our efforts to contain the coronavirus, but our work is far from over,” said Porsa, who leads Harris Health System. “Our success so far has not come easy or cheap. You have suffered much in terms of sickness, lost lives, lost wages, lost business and unimaginable emotional and psychological stress over these past few weeks. Because of all your sacrifices, we are now at a point that we can realistically talk about reopening our economy and return to life as we once knew it—or something close to it. … But I also want to ask you to please, remain vigilant and on guard.”
Porsa reiterated the importance of staying home, social distancing, proper hygiene, wearing masks and supporting the contact tracing work throughout the public health sector.
Shah addressed contact tracing and said the county is asking every individual to support those efforts through awareness and cooperation.
“Keep notice a bit about who you’re around,” the county’s health authority said. “Because, if three days from now you test positive and we contact you to say, ‘Hey, who have you been around,’ and you don’t remember, that makes our job extremely difficult in public health. And so, we’re asking you to be thinking about that. That really helps all of us.”
Marc Boom of Houston Methodist announced that last week more than 80 churches signed a pledge to refrain from returning to in-person worship if there are more than 50 individuals gathered throughout the month of May. He also spoke about the safety of hospitals throughout the Texas Medical Center, noting reports that individuals with urgent conditions have been avoiding necessary care for fear of exposure to COVID-19 in a health care setting.
“Now is a time to start providing care back to people who need urgent care that has been deferred,” Boom said. “We know we can do that safely and we don’t want to have a second tragedy of people having illnesses and suffering because they’re not seeking care.”
Klotman of Baylor College of Medicine added that because of advancements in genome sequencing, researchers have been able to track specific origins of the viruses infecting local individuals. He reiterated that ongoing infections are originating through community spread and not coming from inside hospitals. Klotman also named multiple hospitals in the Texas Medical Center that participated in the clinical trial for remdesivir, which is the first clinical trial that shows promise for that drug in treating COVID-19.
“It’s a very well-established scientific principle: It interferes with how the virus replicate,” Klotman said. “We got a very positive signal from that and so there’s real reason to be optimistic that at least we’re beginning to have a therapeutic that works.”
He reassured the public that the TMC’s academic medical centers continue to work on new discoveries and treatments and will participate in every promising therapy that arises. — Alexandra Becker