University Hospital
University Hospital is among the San Antonio hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday morning that he will pause any further phases of reopening Texas and that he is once again putting a stop to elective surgeries to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients in certain counties.

Abbott’s latest action does nothing to reverse any of the reopening phases he’s already allowed for – meaning that bars, restaurants, malls, bowling alleys, and other businesses are still allowed to remain open with some capacity limitations. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses, ” he wrote in a press release on Thursday, but the “pause will help our state corral the spread.”

The latest ban on elective procedures only applies to Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties, four areas where the number of patients hospitalized with virus is quickly progressing.

Just Tuesday, Abbott stressed that hospital capacity in Texas was “abundant.” A day later, Abbott acknowledged in a TV interview that capacity issues in some parts of the state “may necessitate a localized strategy” instead of a return to statewide action.

Statewide, the number of hospitalizations has reached record highs for a full two weeks, soaring to 4,739 on Thursday morning and tripling since Memorial Day. On Wednesday, there were 1,320 intensive care unit beds and nearly 13,000 available hospital beds, but with regional disparities.

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In hard-hit regions, some hospitals have begun moving coronavirus patients from crowded ICUs to other facilities and local leaders have warned that hospitals could get overwhelmed if the number of infections keeps climbing. In the greater Houston area, the Texas Medical Center warns that the intensive care units are 30 beds away from filling up to their normal capacity. Hospitals and care facilities would then employ their surge plans to build out additional capacity.

Some hospital leaders had also pointed out that treating both patients could become unsustainable: “Should the number of new cases grow too rapidly, it will eventually challenge our ability to treat both COVID-19 and non-COVID 19 patients,” Dr. Marc Boom, head of the Houston Methodist hospital system, wrote in an email Friday.

Some counties could be added to the list if hospitalizations surge in other areas of Texas.

Laredo’s hospitals are also reported to be hitting their ICU capcity. The Laredo TV station KGNS reported Wednesday night that Dr. Victor Treviño, the health authority, has contacted the Commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services, to fast track the diversion of COVID-19 patients to other hospitals.

As hospitalizations have jumped in recent weeks, Abbott had suggested one of the first major moves the state could make is to at least partially restore the elective surgeries ban that Texas put in place in late March.

That statewide ban lasted about a month before Abbott eased it, allowing hospitals to resume nonessential procedures under certain conditions, as long as 15 percent of beds were reserved for coronavirus patients.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

Sarah R. Champagne, Texas Tribune

Sarah R. Champagne, Texas Tribune

Sarah R. Champagne is a master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a summer reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune.