COVID Vaccine

Dr. Srini Rangu receives a COVID-19 vaccine in December from nurse Shelly Gilcrease at Longview Regional Medical Center.

As the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region nears a pandemic-high, one Longview hospital’s intensive care unit is on the brink of capacity.

On Aug. 18, 598 patients with lab-confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses were in Longview-Tyler hospitals, which are part of the 19-county Trauma Service Region G, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

That’s an increase from 468 patients a week earlier — or an almost 28% jump. And the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients in Trauma Service Region G has skyrocketed 987% since June 18, when 55 hospitalizations were reported.

The most hospitalizations reported on a single day in the region during the pandemic was 684 on Jan. 6.

Trauma Service Region G’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate has remained above 15% for at least the past seven days and was at 21.4% on Aug. 18, according to state data.

Hitting the 15% threshold for seven days in a row previously would have triggered new capacity restrictions at businesses in the trauma service region, as happened Dec. 20. (Those restrictions continued until Feb. 5.)

However, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order earlier this year that lifted that rule.

Meanwhile, Longview Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Libby Bryson said Friday that the hospital has one available ICU bed with the other 23 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“Our COVID-positive census has fluctuated around 70-75 cases over the last week,” she said in a statement. “We have 24 dedicated ICU beds and the surge ability to manage over 40 critical care level patients.”

She added that 22 of the 23 patients with COVID-19 in the ICU are unvaccinated.

“Our patient census is evaluated throughout each day, and we activate our established overflow units when needed,” Bryson said.

The data reported Friday by Longview Regional differed slightly from information released by Mayor Andy Mack during Thursday’s City Council meeting.

Mack said Longview Regional had no ICU beds available as of Thursday, with 78 COVID-19 patients, including 24 in the ICU and 23 of those patients on ventilators.

The mayor also said the average age of COVID-19 patients at Longview Regional is younger than 50.

During an Aug. 9 news conference, Longview Regional CEO Steve Gordon said 47 COVID-19 patients were in his hospital — one of whom was vaccinated. Gordon also said at the time that Longview Regional had 16 COVID-19 patients in its ICU on ventilators.

Mack said during the Thursday council meeting that Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview didn’t provide COVID-19 data, although the city had requested it.

The mayor did say, however, that Christus Good Shepherd no longer is performing elective procedures and has moved all its operating room staff to floors where they are caring for COVID-19 patients.

Christus Good Shepherd spokesman Will Knous did not provide numbers Friday related to total COVID-19 patients in the hospital or in the ICU.

“The recent increase in COVID-19 cases has resulted in devoting more of our resources to COVID care, and we continue to expand our critical care and ICU capability and response to the needs of the community during this surge,” he said in a statement.

The surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the Longview area also has spurred a shortage of health care workers, especially nurses.

Christus Good Shepherd CEO Todd Hancock said during the Aug. 9 news conference that the health system is “asking in an unprecedented way for nurses to step up.”

“What’s different is that (during the January surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations), the state was providing us with hundreds of nurses a day to take care of those patients,” Hancock said. “The state is not providing us with nurses at this time. The state is not providing us with funding at this time.”

Later on the day of the news conference, Abbott’s office said the Department of State Health Services would be “utilizing staffing agencies to provide medical personnel from out-of-state to Texas health care facilities to assist in COVID-19 operations.”

Hancock added that hospitals are going to the market to find nurses and other health care professionals to help treat the influx of patients.

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