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Texas ER Doctor Discusses Skyrocketing COVID-19 Cases In Houston


The situation is getting worse, not better. The U.S. set a daily record for new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, recording 40,401 new cases, surpassing the previous record, which was set just a day earlier. And yesterday, Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, confirmed in a conference call with reporters that the spread of the virus in the U.S. is likely much worse than we realized.


ROBERT REDFIELD: Our best estimate right now is that for every case that was reported, there actually were 10 other infections.

MARTIN: Thursday's record number includes 6,000 people in Texas diagnosed with the coronavirus, which is an all-time high for that state. Texas Governor Greg Abbott had lifted lockdown restrictions two months ago, allowing shops, movie theaters and restaurants to reopen. Then this week, he recommended that people stay inside. Yesterday, hospitals in all the major population centers around Texas were ordered to suspend elective surgeries, making room for COVID patients.

To help us understand what these numbers mean, we are joined by Dr. Cedric Dark, an emergency room physician affiliated with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Dr. Dark, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

CEDRIC DARK: Good morning. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm doing well. What has this week been like for you in the ER?

DARK: It's starting to get busier, I would say. I've worked in our corona area. We have our ER kind of separated off into two sections. One is where anybody that comes in complaining of symptoms like shortness of breath or fever, dry cough, they get put into one area. Then the rest of ER, if you pass that screening, then you go to the remainder part of the ER. But I've been working in the part where we have all of our suspected COVID patients. And it's been getting busier and busier. And one of the major problems that we have is we're finding it harder and harder to find space to put patients.

MARTIN: So where do they go? You're literally running out of beds specific to COVID patients? Or you're creating makeshift spaces and even those are running out? Can you give us more of a sense of what that means?

DARK: Yeah. I would say that when a patient needs to be admitted to the hospital that you find that it's hard to find a bed for them. And looking around even other hospitals to try to transfer patients, there is no space available. Literally, I've seen patients that have been in the ERs waiting for over 24 hours trying to find a place for them, a bed for them, that has isolation capacity to handle COVID. And that just doesn't happen. And as the numbers will show you, the bed occupancy in and around the Texas Medical Center has started to grow exponentially over the past couple of weeks.

MARTIN: The heads of four hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, where you're located, all said yesterday that the medical system can handle this surge. Do you think that's true? Does that reflect what you're seeing?

DARK: I mean, I don't know what they're looking at at their level from overall systems level. But I can tell you what I see on the ground level with the patients that are in front of my eyes. And I know they're not moving out of the ER to the floors. And that's one of the biggest concerns that we have. One of the things that my colleagues in New York had experienced was once you fill up your ICUs, once you fill up your floor beds, the next place and the only place for patients to be is in the emergency departments. And everything that needs to happen for them from life to death is going to happen in the ER.

MARTIN: That means that people who need to be in the ER for other reasons, there's not going to be room for them, for someone who has a non-COVID-related emergency?

DARK: Ultimately, that might happen over time. If, You know, we have to use more and more of our space for patients that have COVID, you know, the patients that have things like heart attacks or strokes or appendicitis are not going to have space.

MARTIN: Increasingly, it's young people who are getting the virus, at least that's the case nationwide. Are you seeing that happen? Who are the patients who have been coming into your hospital?

DARK: I have started to notice that trend. And some of the patients are actually getting younger and younger. They're actually starting to be younger than me. And, you know, one of the things that I've noticed is when they come in they tell me, oh, yeah, I was around somebody at work that was sick. Or I had a family member - my parent or my child - they were sick. So what we see is this happens in cohorts.

MARTIN: We're going to have to leave it there. I hope we can have you back on. Dr. Cedric Dark with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Thank you.

DARK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.