Medical professionals warn of COVID-19 surge as numbers increase

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Houston area, medical professionals are warning communities to brace for a surge of cases in the next two or three weeks.

"Hospital systems are sending out to other staff physicians and licensed physicians about being in a labor pool," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Ed Rensimer. "They're even reaching out to a lot of people, perhaps even those who are retired."

Rensimer said all available testing data shows Houston-area cases are still on the rise, and will not peak for several weeks. The problem is made worse because test results are taking about 10 to 14 days to come in for those going to free testing sites.

"In the community, you're not going to get a fast result right now. There is short supply on the kits and people are lining up to get the tests, and it's not going to improve."

ABC13 took a look into the percentage of people who are testing positive. That data point is not easily found because there is no uniform criteria for testing.

At Legacy Community Health, for example, the use of strict CDC guidelines means only symptomatic patients are tested. Therefore, their rate of positive cases are higher. About 15 percent of those tested return positive.

At United Memorial Medical, which screens almost anyone willing to wait in line for free, about 9 to 10 percent of those tested are coming back positive.

The Houston Health Department tests at two sites, but gathers positive results from the entire city including private physicians.

"We expect those test numbers to continue to go up as we do more testing," said Mayor Sylvester Turner during a press conference on Thursday. "I don't get too caught up on the numbers. The key is to stay within the medical delivery system that handles our patients."

Rensimer said the only way to not overwhelm the medical system is for people to practice social distancing, and even that may not be enough.

"They're preparing for a really bad situation in the next two weeks," he said.

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