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COVID-19 surge strains Bell County hospitals; officials worry about start of school year

Bell County health leaders spoke about how the latest wave is impacting staff, capacity levels and the community.

BELL COUNTY, Texas — Bell County Judge David Blackburn and healthcare leaders held a press conference to stress the dire situation the county is in during this latest COVID-19 surge.

Not only did they give an update on the surge, but doctors also painted a picture of how strained local hospitals are, and they're afraid of what it could become with the school year just days away.

The rapidly spreading COVID-19 delta variant is making it's way around Central Texas with cases continuing to surge, even among the county's youngest.

"This is a different disease almost as it pertains to the pediatric population," said Dr. Dominic Lucia, Chief Medical Officer of the Baylor Scott & White McLane Children's Medical Center.

Dr. Lucia said this wave of cases is hitting the hospital the hardest.

"Our numbers of hospitalized kids all last year, even during the worst points was zero to three percent of our hospital beds, now it's currently 10 to 15 percent of our hospital beds. Yesterday we were at 15 percent," Dr. Lucia explained.

He said the hospital census always rises once the school starts and starting high isn't ideal for intensive care units (ICUs), and nurses, especially as the pandemic has decimated healthcare worker numbers.

Calee Travis, chief nursing officer of Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights, with more than 40 years of nursing experience, is hurting among all healthcare workers.

"We're tried and this is the worst I have ever experienced in my career," said Travis. "I have never seen anything like this."

Hospital staff are being stretched thin as the unvaccinated take over ICU beds.

Dr. Stephen Sibbitt, chief medical officer of the Central Texas Region of Baylor Scott & White Health, said ICU beds are at 133% capacity with not enough staff to support them.

"There are sick people, they are your family members, they are your relatives, they are your friends, who show up into area community hospitals that we have to say no to because we just don't have a bed to place them in," he said.

Healthcare leaders are sending the call to the community to get vaccinated and wear masks to slow down what's happening in healthcare facilities.

"Our plea is that you consider evidence based guidance that will help reduce this community disease burden," said Dr. Erin Bird, chief medical officer for AdventHealth Central Texas and AdventHealth Rollins Brook.

"Us caregivers and other facilities as well, we need a slowing of what's coming into our facilities," said Dr. Sibbitt.

Another plea from doctors aside from getting vaccinated and wearing masks is if you need to get tested for COVID-19, don't go to the emergency room.

If you're needing to get tested for COVID-19, visit this website. It offers a map of COVID-19 test collection sites.

If you're looking to get vaccinated you can visit this website. It allows users to enter their location and find vaccine providers near them.