(THE TEXAS TRIBUNE)- East Texas hospitals are trying to deal with the overflow of COVID-19 patients. Most recently, UT Health in Tyler said they will be postponing elective surgeries to free up hospital beds.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced new moves Monday to fight the coronavirus pandemic as it rages again in Texas, including asking hospitals to again put off certain elective procedures to make space for COVID-19 patients.

Still, the governor’s announcement did not back down on his refusal to institute any new statewide restrictions on businesses or to let local governments and schools mandate masks or vaccines.

Instead, Abbott announced he had written to the Texas Hospital Association asking hospitals to “voluntarily postpone medical procedures for which delay will not result in loss of life or a deterioration in the patient’s condition.” As coronavirus was consuming the state last summer, Abbott took a more restrictive approach and banned elective surgeries in over 100 counties before ending the prohibition in September.

East Texas hospitals are already being impacted by the surge of cases.

“There are no beds available in our hospital. This is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Todd Hancock, CEO of Christus Good Shepherd.

Hospitals also have a shortage of nurses, but there is a big demand to care for patients.

“Our hospitals are all very busy to start with even without COVID, so we’re continuing to deliver cardiac care, neurologic care, stroke care, all the things we normally do, trauma care and now we’re faced with the surge of COVID patients,” said Dr. Mark Anderson, Chief Medical Officer of CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances.

On Monday, Abbott also announced other efforts to combat COVID-19.

He was asking state agencies to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers that aim to treat COVID-19 patients with therapeutic drugs and keep them from requiring hospitalization. And he said the Department of State Health Services “will be utilizing staffing agencies to provide medical personnel from out-of-state to Texas health care facilities to assist in COVID-19 operations.”

That is a reversal for the state. In July, the state told cities and counties it would not send additional health care workers to aid hospitals with the latest surge of COVID-19 patients, like it had earlier in the pandemic. Instead, state officials said, city and county leaders should dip into $10.5 billion worth of federal stimulus dollars to pay for those workers should hospitals need them.

In recent days, key coronavirus indicators have spiked to levels not seen since the winter. Vaccinations started ticking up last month, though Texas continues to lag nationally in percent of people fully vaccinated, which stood at 44.4% as of Saturday.

As part of Monday’s announcement, Abbott’s office said he was directing state agencies to “increase vaccination availability across the state” but did not provide further details.

“Texans can help bolster our efforts by getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” Abbott said in the news release. “The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against this virus.”

The announcement did not show any change in Abbott’s refusal to take new statewide action on masks, vaccines or business shutdowns. He also is not shying away from his refusal to let local governments or other public entities, like schools, require masks or vaccines.


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