Officials say if COVID-19 surge continues, hospitals may be overwhelmed

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Last month, ABC13 told you about a new study out of the University of Pennsylvania that projected the Harris County and Houston-area would see an uptick in about 200 new cases a day. Now that the numbers add up, we talked to a professor with the study and Harris County Public Health about prevention and how to flatten the curve.

Professor Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D., with the study also lived in Houston for 20 years. Morris said he is concerned and upset with the latest numbers.

"It's spreading so quickly, and it's in danger of getting out of control," Morris said. "The number of cases in the broader Houston-area has more than tripled in the last 10 days and the number of hospitalizations has tripled in the last 10 days, so if that's continuing in the next 20 days at this rate, you could be looking at a 10 fold increase."

Across the state, the number of Texans hospitalized with the virus is 3,247 people which contributed to setting the record for the ninth consecutive day Saturday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services told ABC13 that part of the increase is attributed to Texans gathering at bars, beaches and other crowded social gatherings.

Morris believes this surge could have been prevented, while keeping the businesses open.

"The bottom line is that, if most people wore masks indoors when around other people, that alone might get this surge under control and keep viral spread to a manageable level," Morris said. "Public cooperation in following basic precautionary guidelines like this is the best way to control the virus' spread, while allowing people to live their lives as normal as possible while we are battling this pandemic."

Doctor Sherri Onyiego with Harris County Public Health said the uptick in COVID-19 cases across the Texas Medical Center and region is due to multiple factors, including increased demand for testing and Texas re-opening.

"With our own testing incentives we have seen an increase in capacity and in community response to be able to utilize the testing resource. We've also known, with our phased re-opening, that's also been a contributor. As well as a number of these milestone events that have also occurred such as Mother's Day, graduations, and Memorial Day holiday and also with our recent protests," Dr. Onyiego said.

She said the main concern is if Houstonians do not take the proper measures to slow the spread, it could lead to Houston-area hospitals becoming overwhelmed. That's why Harris County Public Health has started initiatives for testing, awareness and prevention, and issued the latest mask order.

"We know with the recent order with our mask policy we hope that this will help to slow down some of these numbers we are seeing," Dr. Onyiego said. "Again, it's really early for us to tell but we know that that's one of the preventative strategies that we have in our tool box along with social distancing and other health practices like hand hygiene."

Visit the Harris County Public Health website for more on initiatives during COVID-19 crisis and the confirmed cases in your area.

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