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Abbott appeals for medical staff come to Texas to fight COVID – but refuses to lift mask mandate ban

The governor of Texas has issued an urgent appeal for medical staff to come and assist with surging COVID cases – even as he resists calls to reinstate a mask mandate.

Greg Abbott, the Republican leader of the state, made his cry for help as the rolling two-week daily average of new COVID-19 cases in his state has increased by 165 per cent to 8,533, according to Johns Hopkins University research data. 

Announcing his new measures Monday, Abbott tweeted: ‘Today I announced new measures to respond to the spread of COVID-19: Bring in additional medical personnel to staff hospitals

‘Expand Antibody Infusion Centers to prevent hospitalization of those with COVID. Make it easier to get a vaccination.’

 Abbott later added: ‘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.’ 

Greg Abbott, pictured on June 30, is asking medical staff to travel to Texas to assist with the surge in COVID cases. Only Florida is seeing more new infections at the moment

About 45 per cent of the state’s population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, putting Texas well into the bottom half of the vaccination ‘league table’. Vermont is currently the highest performing, with 78 per cent of all residents fully vaccinated, and Mississippi and Alabama the worst with around 40 per cent.

Texas currently ranks second behind Florida for the highest daily average COVID-19 cases. 

Abbott spoke as two hospitals in his state closed their ER rooms, elective procedures were cancelled, and the capital, Austin, sent out an emergency warning to residents telling them to stay home, mask up and get vaccinated. 

‘The situation is critical,’ said Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis county’s medical director.

‘Our hospitals are severely stressed and there is little we can do to alleviate their burden with the surging cases.’  

The Texas trauma service area that includes Austin only has six available ICU beds, 499 available hospital beds and 313 available ventilators, according to The Guardian – a shocking shortage of resources for a population nearly 2.4 million strong. 

Hunt, 80 miles north west of San Antonio, and Rockwall, a suburb of Dallas, both said they were temporarily closing their ER units.  

Abbott has directed the Texas Department of State Health Services to use staffing agencies to find additional medical staff from beyond the state’s borders.

Hospital officials in Houston said last week that area hospitals with beds had insufficient numbers of nurses to serve them.

Abbott also directed the state health department and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers to treat patients not needing hospital care and expand COVID-19 vaccine availability to the state’s underserved communities.  

A patient is helped into a vehicle after leaving the Houston Methodist Hospital on July 16. Houston is seeing a surge in infections

A patient is helped into a vehicle after leaving the Houston Methodist Hospital on July 16. Houston is seeing a surge in infections

Anti vaccine protesters are seen at a demonstration outside the Houston hospital (above) on June 7

Anti vaccine protesters are seen at a demonstration outside the Houston hospital (above) on June 7

Only around 45 per cent of Texans are fully vaccinated. Delta is wreaking havoc in the state

Only around 45 per cent of Texans are fully vaccinated. Delta is wreaking havoc in the state

An anti-vaccine rally protester dressed up as Joe Biden holds a sign outside of Houston Methodist Hospital on June 26

An anti-vaccine rally protester dressed up as Joe Biden holds a sign outside of Houston Methodist Hospital on June 26

The governor is taking all action  short of lifting his emergency order banning county and local government entities from requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing, to lower the COVID-19 risk. 

The Republican has said repeatedly that Texans have the information and intelligence to make their own decisions on what steps to take to protect their health and the health of those around them.

His confidence is counter to the exasperation expressed last month by Alabama’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, who was visibly angered by her residents’ reluctance to get vaccinated and take care of themselves.

‘Folks are supposed to have common sense,’ she said. 

‘But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.’

In Texas, the heads of local school districts were taking matters into their own hands and defying Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. 

Abbott is seen with Donald Trump on June 30, when Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border

Abbott is seen with Donald Trump on June 30, when Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border

Michael Hinojosa, the superintendent of Dallas schools – the state’s second-largest public school system – announced on Monday that the district would require masks and social distancing from Tuesday, Abbott’s ban notwithstanding. 

Hinojosa said the school district’s legal advisors assured that Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students.

The superintendent of the Houston school district, the state’s largest, announced last week that the district would require masks and social distancing in the district’s schools effective upon district board approval Thursday. 

A group of parents sued the Houston Independent School District over the weekend, challenging the requirements. 

Also Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins filed a lawsuit asking a judge to strike down Abbott’s mask mandate ban.

Meantime, one of Houston’s two county-owned hospitals was pitching tents to accommodate its COVID-19 overflow. 

Harris Health System and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in northeastern Houston added nearly 2,000 square feet of medical tents in the hope of taking control of the anticipated increase in patient volume and keep staff and non-COVID-19 patients safe.

Last week, Houston area officials said the wave of Delta variant infections so strained the area’s hospitals that some patients had to be transferred out of the city, with one being sent to North Dakota. 

A construction crew on Monday works to set up tents that hospital officials plan to use with an overflow of COVID-19 patients outside of Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston

A construction crew on Monday works to set up tents that hospital officials plan to use with an overflow of COVID-19 patients outside of Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston

Hospitals are buckling under the strain, forcing the creation of overflow facilities like this one (above) in Houston

Hospitals are buckling under the strain, forcing the creation of overflow facilities like this one (above) in Houston

The vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are among those not fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 99.99 per cent of people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death, a CNN analysis of new CDC data suggests.

As of August 2, more than 164 million people in the US were fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. 

Fewer than 0.005 per cent of those vaccinated – or 7,101 people – were hospitalized with COVID-19. 

Less than 0.001% of them – 1,507 people – died from the virus.


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