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As ICUs reach capacity with the third ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, local officials are further pushing residents to get vaccinated.

During a Friday morning COVID update hosted by Travis County Judge Andy Brown, Dr. John David Hinze, pulmonary critical care specialist at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin, said the hospital group is being overrun with COVID patients who are unvaccinated. Only one patient in the ICU is vaccinated after getting the vaccine following a positive COVID test, Hinze said.

Hinze said hospital staff, nurses and docters are overwhelmed as the Delta variant proves to be "a meaner virus."

"It's now affecting people we thought didn't have bad infections, like teenagers and 20-year-olds," Hinze said, adding the age range for those in the ICU is 19-74.

(Austin Public Health)

Ascension Seton is now having to make difficult decisions on who gets ECMO treatment, a machine that pumps out a critically ill patient's blood into an artificial heart and body to give the lungs rest time. Hinze said it has saved lives before, but it is an extremely limited capability that is reserved for the young and pregnant.

Two young women were treated at Ascension Seton this week with ECMO. "We're not going to offer it to a 35-year-old male—how sad is that, we're having to make those kinds of ethical decisions," Hinze said.

As hospitals and local officials push everyone to get vaccinated, Hinze told a story in which an ICU patient said he was terrified before being intubated. "You know how you keep from being terrified, you get the vaccine and help us end this pandemic," Hinze said at the press conference.

Pregnant women have been of particular concern to health leaders as they are heading to the hospital more with COVID complications in this surge.

Dr. Jeny Ghartey, maternal medical director at Ascension Seton, said 100% of pregnant women hospitalized are unvaccinated.

CDC data shows pregnancy is an independent risk factor for severe COVID illness. Ghartey said, pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to:

  • be admitted to ICU
  • need machinery to help them breathe
  • die compared to nonpregnant women
Pregnant women are urged to get vaccinated to avoid adverse pregnancy outcomes after getting COVID-19 such as preterm birth.

She dispelled myths that the vaccine affects the placenta and infertility, saying there is not evidence that supports those notions.

No one would be in my ICU (if everyone was vaccinated)," Hinze said. "This is an overwhelming surge and we're right at capacity in our ICU."


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