Gov. Greg Abbott's top advisor on record spike: '5,000 patients in a day gets your attention'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- "It's hard to predict what the number will be day to day, but certainly, 5,000 patients in a day gets your attention," said Gov. Greg Abbott's top hospital advisor hours after the governor said the state surpassed more than 5,000 cases in a single-day for the first time.

On Tuesday, ABC13 spoke with Dr. John Zerwas, the executive vice chancellor for health affairs of the UT system, and a member of the governor's coronavirus task force.

The topic? The sharp increase in coronavirus-related hospitalizations, and the interview occurred hours after the governor's alarming announcement.

READ MORE: Texas hits 5,000 new COVID-19 cases in single-day for first time

"The hospital capacity remains very strong still," said Zerwas. "If you look at the numbers of patients that are actually driving the census in our various hospitals, in most of them, it's 10 percent or less. We do see some 12 or 15 percent hospitals where the COVID patients occupy that amount. But even that, as you can tell, is not the majority of patients that is driving the census."

In the last week, both statewide and in the Houston region, we've seen a marked, steady increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The state's total number rose from 2,326 on June 15 to more than 3,700 on Monday.

Locally, Houston saw an increase from 730 on June 15 to nearly 1,200 yesterday.

Some hospitals, including Ben Taub and LBJ, have been at capacity several times in the past months.

READ MORE: Houston hospitals say ICU units are reaching capacity

Zerwas still believes there is plenty of space right now.

He said they are always looking forward and picking up clues about the surges to come.

"One of the other things that we look at closely, which can be an earlier sign of whether hospital capacity is going to get compromised, is the number of COVID-related patients we see in the emergency room," Zerwas said.

There is an encouraging sign, however.

As of June 22, there were 689 adults on ventilators in the 15 counties in southeast Texas.

There were 1,122 available ventilators.

While that is a slight increase from the numbers of ventilated patients a week earlier, it is far lower than the peak on May 24 from a month ago, when 1,142 adults were on ventilators and the available capacity was almost half that.

"We have significant numbers of ventilators if you look across the state," Zerwas said. "Even if you look within the various regions out there, we don't see that being an issue that's a problem."

Zerwas remains optimistic and is calling hospital systems in Texas robust.

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