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Abbott suspends elective surgeries in Austin, pauses Texas reopening as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rise
Austin-area hospitals have seen an increase in admissions. (Travis County COVID-19 dashboard)

Amid what he called a "massive outbreak" of new COVID-19 cases. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order suspending elective surgeries at hospitals in Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties.


"These four counties have experienced significant increases in people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 and today's action is a precautionary step to ensure that the hospitals in these counties continue to have ample supply of available beds to treat COVID-19 patients," Abbott said in a statement issued this morning.

All hospitals in these areas are directed to postpone surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary.

Abbott implemented the same order earlier in the pandemic, which freed up hospital capacity but also led to a sharp drop in revenue for providers and 1,200 layoffs at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Austin's hospital capacity

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Travis County could see its caseload double in the next 18 days and area hospital capacity overwhelmed by mid-July at a virtual press conference yesterday.

Unless the rising curve of COVID cases is not flattened soon, Dr. Escott said he would have to recommend a second shutdown to local elected officials.

Austin's three major hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—issued a joint statement Wednesday, before the governor's order.

The three hospital systems have 2,470 staffed beds, 71% of which were occupied as of Wednesday night; together they also have 483 ICU beds, 70% of which were occupied.

The surge plan

The systems can increase their total bed capacity to 3,250 beds, but "it would require staffing that exceeds what we typically have available for daily operations," per the statement.

The city released a three-stage surge plan in early April, which includes establishing additional hospital beds.

Although the city has not identified where field hospitals may be, local physicians said that hospitals have been planning for such a contingency for months.

"We do not want to provide care for you at the Austin Convention Center," Dr. Kirsten Nieto, an internal medicine and pediatric hospitalist at Dell Children's and Dell Seton, said at yesterday's press conference. "We want you to stay home."

Reopening

Abbott also announced Thursday that he is temporarily pausing the state's reopening.

"The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," he said in a separate statement. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."

This pause does not change any previous developments, which include allowing restaurants to increase capacity to 75% and amusement parks to reopen.

This article has been updated with the announcement about pausing the reopening process.

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