TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Health officials across East Texas are warning of a COVID-19 case surge and making pleas for people to get vaccinated.

In separate news conferences Monday, health and local officials from Gregg and Smith counties talked about the increasing number of COVID cases in East Texas, especially with the new Delta variant. They both mentioned bed shortages and staffing shortages as hospitalizations rise.

Dr. John DiPasquale with CHRISTUS Health Longview said that hospital staff is exhausted from this recent case surge.

“We’re seeing a large number of COVID patients again, but the patients we’re seeing are unvaccinated,” DiPasquale said. “It’s nearly 100%. The patients are younger. I’m seeing patients in their 20’s and 30’s that are coming into our emergency department gasping for air.”

According to Dr. Mark Anderson with CHRISTUS Health in Tyler, 95% of hospitalizations are from people who are unvaccinated. The few that have had the vaccines but still get sick with a breakthrough case have multiple co-morbid conditions, he said.

“The message is, please get vaccinated,” Anderson said. “We’ve had an interval where we had plenty of time to get people vaccinated. I know it’s been a political topic, but that is what’s going to keep us out of this problem.”

Vaccines are available across East Texas, but there are still many East Texas areas that have less than 30% of their population vaccinated.

“This vaccine is safe. The FDA would not have administered the EUA for this vaccine if it wasn’t safe,” DiPasquale said. “Full approval by the FDA is imminent.”

The CDC says that the level of community transmission in Smith and Gregg counties is “very high.” Smith County currently has 1,741 estimated active cases, and Gregg County has 929 estimated active cases, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Dr. Tom Cummins from UT Health East Texas said they are experiencing similar issues to CHRISTUS. He said they have seen people ages from 17-90 years old, some with other conditions and many without. 15% of these patients are under the age of 40, he said.

He added, there are several people in their 20’s that are intubated and on ventilator for life support.

“Not only is this disease spreading more rapidly, it’s hitting a different group, and it’s hitting them fairly hard,” Cummins said.

Deep East Texas has no available ICU beds as of Sunday, according to Texas DSHS.

Todd Hancock, CEO of Good Shepherd health system, said that they are seeing a “significant” new surge in the community. DSHS is calling this the third wave of COVID cases.

Hancock said people can help the situation by getting vaccinated, stating that things will get worse before they get better.

“I promise you this: the people in our hospital today that have COVID, many of which are very sick, many did not think that they were going to get COVID,” Hancock said. “They thought they were healthy, they thought they were young. But they are very sick, and they are in our hospital.”

After these press conferences, Gov. Greg Abbott announced actions the state will take to mitigate the rise of COVID cases in Texas.

Abbott recently sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association, asking hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective medical procedures. He directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers in hopes that will increase bed capacity in hospitals.

“The State of Texas is taking action to combat the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and ensure that our hospitals and communities have the resources and support they need to mitigate the virus. Texans can help bolster our efforts by getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against this virus. Texans can visit covidvaccine.texas.gov to find a COVID-19 vaccine provider near them.”

Gov. Greg Abbott

Abbott is also directing TDEM and DSHS to increase vaccination availability across the state and encourages all Texans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Texans can visit covidvaccine.texas.gov to find a provider near them. Texans can also utilize TDEM’s State Mobile Vaccine Program by calling 844-90-TEXAS and selecting Option 3 to schedule a mobile vaccine clinic to vaccinate groups of of friends, families, employees, volunteers, and more. Homebound Texans can also call 844-90-TEXAS and choose Option 1 to request a mobile vaccine team to come to their home.