A public health agency that operates hospitals in Houston says area hospitals are transferring some patients to other hospitals in and outside of the city as Texas sees a surge in coronavirus cases. 

In an interview with a local news station, Charlie McMurray-Horton, the associate administrator for Clinical Integration and Transformation at Harris Health, spoke about the capacity issues affecting Harris Health hospitals.

“It really has intensified in the last month or so,” McMurray-Horton said on Tuesday, according to ABC 13. “We are actively trying to transfer out ICU and surge patients that are COVID positive and under investigation, just because we don’t have the capacity to treat those patients.” 

Harris Health System operates Ben Taub and LBJ hospitals in the Houston area. The hospitals are transferring both COVID-19 patients and others to help free up hospital beds, Bryan McLeod, a spokesperson for Harris Health, told CBS News on Wednesday. In the last 24 hours, they have moved 33 patients to other hospitals and are working to relocate at least 15 more, McLeod said.

McLeod said some patients have been transferred to other hospitals in the Houston area and some have been brought to Galveston, Conroe and other nearby cities. He said this is a common practice to free up beds at the hospitals.

According to data from the state’s department of health and human services, there were 6,533 COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the state as of Tuesday. Across the state, there were 13,711 available hospital beds, 1,405 available ICU beds and 1,405 available ventilators, according to the data. 

Dr. David Callender, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, said his hospital is not at capacity, despite concerns, CBS affiliate KHOU reports.

“We were getting panicked calls from elected officials and members of the media saying, ‘You all are out of ICU beds, what are we going to do?’ No, that’s not right. We were not doing a very good job with our slides and portraying how we manage our capacity,” Callender said. “We want to be very clear. We’re not close to running out of capacity.”

There have been more than 30,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Harris County, which encompasses the Houston area and has seen more confirmed cases than any other county in Texas. There have been nearly 160,000 cases reported across the state of Texas, with nearly 7,000 new cases reported on Tuesday alone – the highest single-day increase in the state since the start of the pandemic. 

The spike in cases comes after the state began gradually reopening. On Friday, Governor Greg Abbott said he should not have rushed ahead with reopening bars. The news came as Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said Texas is one of the two states with the largest increase in positive coronavirus cases. The other state is Florida.

Bars in Texas have been shut down indefinitely and restaurants, which were allowed to open at 75% capacity, must reduce capacity to 50%, according to an order issued by Abbott on Friday.

A healthcare worker gets information from people in line at United Memorial Medical Center Covid-19 testing site in Houston, Texas, June 25, 2020.

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