COVID-19: Rural Texas Hospitals Brace for Impact

Sophie Novack for Texas Observer:

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas have grown more than six times since May 25, when many Texans were out celebrating Memorial Day, breaking new records nearly every day for more than a month. A record 9,610 people were hospitalized in Texas as of Wednesday, with a high of 98 new deaths reported since the day before. Abbott’s insistence that hospital beds statewide were plentiful means little in a state as big as Texas: An open bed in El Paso is little help for someone severely ill in Starr County, more than 700 miles away. Regional totals show a dire situation. The nine-county Gulf Coast trauma service region in East Texas, which includes Beaumont and Galveston and is home to 1.3 million people, had a single ICU bed available as of Wednesday. The 12-county Coastal Bend region of more than 630,000 people that includes Corpus Christi had three. In the mostly rural West Texas region spanning 17 counties from the Mexico border to north of Midland and Odessa, where 527,000 people live, there were 27 free ICU beds. And in the four-county Rio Grande Valley, home to nearly 1.4 million people, there were 25

Rural hospitals across the state have been stretched thin for years, underfunded and understaffed long before the pandemic hit. At least 20 small-town Texas hospitals have closed since 2013, more than double any other state. More than one-fifth of Texas’ 254 counties have just one doctor or none at all. Large swaths of the state, with populations that trend older and sicker, do not have enough hospital beds, health care equipment, specialists, or medical staff to combat an infectious disease outbreak.

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