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Are Texas Hospitals Ready For A Surge Of Coronavirus Cases?

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The U.S. health care system could become overwhelmed by the influx of people infected with the coronavirus and its disease COVID-19 as soon as April 15, even with strong social distancing rules and other protective measures in place. 

The U.S. coronavirus death toll surpassed China's on Tuesday at more than 3,700. There had been more than 850,000 cases and 41,500 deaths worldwide as of Tuesday evening, with over 184,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. alone. In Texas, more than 3,200 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 41 have died.

Total containment of the coronavirus is no longer possible. Experts say the priority now is to "flatten the curve" -- staggering the number of new cases over a longer period -- to avoid over-burdening hospitals at any given time. The faster the rate of infection, the quicker local hospitals will be overloaded. Slow the rate of transmission, decrease the burden on hospitals.

On March 21, Gov. Greg Abbott waived a slew of nursing workforce regulations to meet the rising need for medical professionals on the front lines of the public health crisis. What is the current level of need for health care workers at San Antonio-area hospitals? 

Dire shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks, gloves, surgical gowns and eye gear prevent health care workers from fully protecting themselves. What's being done to address the lack of medical supplies and equipment? What additional challenges do rural hospitals face?

Overall U.S. hospital bed stock has been on the decline for decades, according to the American Hospital Association. How many more beds and ventilators are needed across Southwest Texas to handle the expected influx of cases? Could overflow facilities help lighten the load?

Does Texas' health care system have the capacity and resources to handle what's coming? Is there a plan to deal with a patient surge if more progress isn't made to flatten the curve? How do hospitals prioritize patient care in a resource shortage?

How can families and roommates effectively self-isolate to limit the virus' spread? Will stricter distancing rules or mandatory shelter-in-place orders be necessary to curtail the coronavirus outbreak in Texas?

Guests:

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call  833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, April 1.

Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.