As COVID-19 numbers surge statewide, tri-county region holds out from worst of third wave for now

TRI-COUNTY — COVID-19 cases are surging statewide in the wake of the new delta variant. The Texas Department of State Health Services’ COVID-19 dashboard reported 13,935 new confirmed cases, 3,466 new probable cases and 84 newly reported fatalities on Tuesday, August 10. Although the Big Bend Region only saw three new confirmed cases and six probable cases over the past week, the statewide surge could have a negative impact on the region, which is lacking in medical supplies.

According to the dashboard, there are currently 158 hospitalized lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in Trauma Service Area J, which includes Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis among its 17 counties. Ruth C. Hucke, a spokesperson for the Big Bend Regional Medical Center, told The Big Bend Sentinel that her entity currently has one COVID hospitalization.

More than half the residents in Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties have received at least one dose of their vaccines, with the former leading counties statewide at 85%. However, a well-documented healthcare shortage makes the tri-county region vulnerable to devastating losses that could come with the third wave the state is now entering.

The dashboard indicates that there are 246 ventilators available in Trauma Service Area J, but only 21 ICU beds, making a potential outbreak deadly in the wake of the novel, highly contagious delta variant. Over the last week, COVID hospitalizations made up 9.49% of total hospital capacity in the area, but this number is likely to rise as cases do.

“We need to go back to what we were doing in the early days of COVID to keep everybody safe, and to keep our hospital admissions down so that our hospitals don’t get overrun,” Dr. Christie Alexander of the Marfa Clinic told The Big Bend Sentinel last week.

As the only hospital in the tri-county area, the BBRMC has two ICU beds and up to 10 ventilators. According to Hucke, the hospital has not yet had to activate its surge plan, but will utilize a designated area of the hospital for COVID patients as needed. While Hucke said the BBRMC remains prepared to care for the health needs of COVID patients, those who require a higher level of medical attention will always be transferred.

“We remain in regular talks with governors and elected officials regarding existing inventory and projected needs for supplies,” she said.

Trauma Service Area J also includes Midland and Ector counties, which are more densely populated and have more medical assistance, accounting for a large fraction of its COVID-19 hospitalizations as a result. Ector County Hospital District held an emergency board meeting on Tuesday, in which they authorized incentive pay to increase nursing staff, and the purchase of additional ventilators.

The dashboard reported 287 confirmed cases in Midland over the past week, as well as 363 confirmed cases and 351 probable cases in Ector. Probable cases include patients who test positive through a rapid test, and patients who report symptoms and exposure to someone with COVID-19 without being diagnosed. Deaths were not reported in either county during this time.

In Presidio County, there are currently eight estimated active cases, or cases of confirmed and probable COVID-19 patients who may still have the virus. That number is 14 in Brewster and two in Jeff Davis. Two new confirmed cases and one probable case were recorded over the past week in Presidio. One and five were recorded respectively in Brewster. No new cases were recorded in Jeff Davis. No new deaths were reported in either district over the past week.

Sul Ross State University’s COVID-19 dashboard was last updated on Tuesday morning to reflect two active cases in the university’s student body, which is composed of 500 people, and one case among its faculty of 365. This brings the total number of cumulative cases on the Alpine campus up to 21 since the spring semester ended.

Since 2020, Presidio County has seen 649 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 183 probable cases and 25 fatalities. An estimated 799 people have recovered since then. Brewster County has seen 843 confirmed cases, 118 probable cases, 17 fatalities and an estimated 930 recoveries. Jeff Davis County has seen 153 confirmed cases, 44 probable cases, six fatalities, two active cases and an estimated 189 recoveries.