The number of available intensive care hospital beds in Dallas County has shrunk as the coronavirus pandemic continues to advance through North Texas, new county data shows.
Now at 52, the county’s inventory of available adult ICU beds is at one of its lowest points since the midsummer coronavirus peak in July. The figure does not include beds that hospitals can add if needed. Each hospital has its own surge plan, which could include doubling up beds in rooms and converting surgical centers.
“Everyone is very concerned with the trends,” said Dr. Philip Huang, the health director. “People aren’t being as vigilant with infection control.”
The daily census count is a snapshot and can shift. Figures for the total number of adult ICU beds were not immediately available. The county previously recorded about 350 available beds in mid-April at the beginning of the pandemic when hospitals were emptied out to make room for COVID-19 cases.
Previous news reports have found not all hospitals consistently report their census. The number of free beds has been regularly below 100 since the beginning of October.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council said Tuesday that there is no shortage of children’s ICU or NICU beds. About 30% of all adult ICU beds in the region are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Among those are seven El Paso County residents who have been transferred to North Texas as their county has seen a massive surge in cases.
The state is reporting a total of 229 ICU beds available in the North Texas region. There are another 1,938 beds available in those hospitals. The state records a total of 14,982 staffed beds in the region.
Dallas County commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday expressed both concern and skepticism over the state of the pandemic, blaming a lack of consistency in how the county and state have reported new cases.
One such shift since the summer: The county is now collecting and releasing the results of COVID-19 antigen tests. These tests provide results in minutes or hours but are considered less reliable than molecular tests.
The state does not record these types of tests.
Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Democrat who represents southern Dallas County, reiterated that hospital data continues to be the best measure to understand the virus’s presence.
“We really don’t know,” he said regarding the number of new cases that have started to exceed 1,000 per day. “These beds are the only gauge, as far as I’m concerned. We don’t know what’s going on.”
Price also questioned the supply of ventilators, demanding details on the availability of parts needed to fix broken machines.
The city of Dallas reported Tuesday that 38% of the 980 ventilators in city hospitals were reported in use.
But Huang said he was unaware of any concerns with ventilator supplies.
Commissioner J.J. Koch, a Republican who represents northern Dallas County, requested data on the average length of stay at area hospitals.
“It’s really important that we have that data,” he said, noting advances in medical treatments for COVID-19. “If we were talking about 52 beds in April, there’d be more panic.”
County Judge Clay Jenkins, highlighting the nearly 3,000 new cases recorded Monday between Dallas and neighboring Tarrant County, stressed for North Texans to reevaluate their Thanksgiving holiday plans.
“The key is going to be for people to celebrate holidays in smaller groups,” he said.