City of Houston

City Officials Worry About Hospital Resources As Coronavirus Cases Spike In Houston Region

Businesses are waiting on more guidance, while officials are waiting on more testing equipment. But with a stay-at-home order and capacity demands, Houston’s “routine has not yet become routine,” officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Sylvester Turner updates the public on coronavirus response Wednesday.

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As coronavirus cases in the Houston area continue to rise, city and health officials said Wednesday they’re worried about their ability to test patients with current hospital resources.

While there are several COVID-19 testing sites across the area, Houston's official testing site in partnership with FEMA could be closed tomorrow if a shipment of personal protective equipment for health care workers doesn't arrive soon, according to Dr. David Persse, the City of Houston’s public health authority.

Without another shipment from FEMA, city officials said Wednesday they were reluctant to open a second testing site. Persse said the city's site is testing about 225 people each day, and the city was awaiting the second FEMA shipment to move forward.

"We've been told the next (shipment) would come this week," Persse said. "That routine has not yet become routine, so we're waiting just like you are to find out when it's going to arrive and exactly what will be in the shipment."

The city's first testing site opened March 20. Persse said shortages of a number of items could temporarily halt testing, like swabs, N95 masks, gloves, and coolers and cooling bags for samples.

"There are many, many links in that chain, and when any one of them comes short it can bring the whole system to a grind," Persse said.

As testing has increased across the region, with private clinics and hospitals providing tests in addition to those of the Houston Health Department, there has been a sharp increase in confirmed cases across the Houston area. On Tuesday, the city reported 31 new cases, with Harris County reporting an additional 25. As of Wednesday, there were at least 134 cases in Houston and greater Harris County.

The rising number of COVID-19 cases could strain hospital infrastructure capacity in Houston, and the city hasn’t yet issued detailed information about how they’re planning to respond.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was looking to lease additional buildings to help house patients, but declined to offer specifics, saying negotiations were still taking place. According to the mayor, the city is also working with two hotels to lease 186 rooms to people experiencing homelessness, and first responders who aren't able to quarantine at home.

"In terms of hospitals, additional space, we have identified certain buildings, facilities in the city of Houston,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner, “and we've made that information available for example to our hospitals and to the Texas Medical Center.”

Additional reporting by Paul DeBenedetto

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Jen Rice

Jen Rice


Jen Rice is the City Hall reporter at Houston Public Media, where she covers topics like Houston City Council and housing. Jen was born and raised in Houston's 100-year floodplain. She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University and has a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs...

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