AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered hospitals in the state's largest metros to stop all elective surgeries in order to save bed capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Abbott said businesses that were allowed to open under Texas' previous reopening phases can continue to operate under designated occupancy levels. They must maintain the minimum standard health protocols provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
In a statement, the governor said:
"As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families," said Governor Abbott. "The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business. I ask all Texans to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly, and socially distancing from others. The more that we all follow these guidelines, the safer our state will be and the more we can open up Texas for business."
The decision came less than an hour after Abbott said hospitals in Harris, Travis, Bexar and Dallas counties must stop elective surgeries. A week after stopping elective surgeries in the last four counties, Abbott added Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces, and Webb counties to his order.
"As these counties experience a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are committed to working alongside hospitals to help ensure that every COVID-19 patient who needs a bed will have access to one," Abbott said.
The actions by the governor were met with some relief by local health officials, but they say it's not enough.
"If the momentum of the virus doesn't change, we're going to be in serious trouble," said Dr. David Persse, Houston's Health Authority. "I don't want to be panicky. But our actions today, won't have an effect until three weeks from now."
In Houston alone, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city added nearly 1,000 new cases on Thursday, with four additional deaths.
"If I had the power, I will certainly reduce the occupancy in our clubs and bars, no questions about it," said Turner. "We all need to be on the same page, and their strategy should be a collective strategy. Quite frankly, it should be the governor and mayor standing together with the same message and the same strategy. That has not happened."
With hospital ICU beds at capacity, local doctors who are willing to speak out are urging the state's political and medical leaders to do more.
"Most cases are at large family gatherings, bars, restaurants at political rallies where people are not wearing masks indoors," said Dr. Christina Propst, a local pediatrician vocal on the issue of masking up and social distancing.
Propst said the reassuring picture painted by the CEOs of the large hospitals are not realistic to what's on the ground. She points to the fact that more than 600 Methodist Hospital employees having tested positive, and the hospital asking its administrators to pick up clinical shifts as indications that staffing shortages are real concerns.
"The bed count is to a great extent is not the issue, it's staffing. We are hiring travel nurses, we have a surge, it's a real concern," he said.
As of now, there are no additional restrictions even as cases continue to surge around the state. Sources say they are expecting local leaders to issue additional orders on Friday.