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Texas COVID apocalypse not happening

CNN, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and other media are warning Americans that end of the world is near –- at least in Texas — due to a surge in coronavirus cases they are calling “apocalyptic.

However, despite doomsday forecasts by the media, not everyone in Texas—or other red states — has COVID-19 or knows someone who is dying of it.

While detection of COVID infections has gone up all around the country due to increased testing, two stats show that Texas has plenty of staffing for hospital beds. More importantly: the virus seems less lethal and treatment for COVID-19 is getting better than it was before.   

While states have been less forthcoming over the months about hospitalization rates and bed availability, statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services show that the state has 57,805 staffed hospital beds, with 4,739 patients hospitalized for COVID.

As John Wittman, spokesman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said this week: “To be clear, in Houston, the percentage of beds occupied by COVID patients is currently 12.9 [percent]. In Austin, the percentage of beds occupied by COVID patients is 10.2 [percent].”

While news stories emphasize Texas hospitals running at or near capacity, its only Texas Medical Center’s ICU in Houston– where 27 percent of the patients (or 105 people) in ICU are there for COVID-19 treatment– that is near “normal” capacity. The hospital says that it can add another 877 ICU beds if needed.

Treatment of coronavirus, meanwhile, has progressed a lot in a few months.

A study of Colorado hospitals found that mortality rates for COVID-hospitalized patients dropped between April and May, from 15.1 percent to 10 percent. The study suggests that hospitals at first were over-reliant on ventilators as a first-line treatment for ICU patients. Ventilators, for a number of reasons, are extremely tough on bodies already weakened by the virus.

“For one, an intubated patient [on a ventilator] must be sedated and unconscious,” says the Colorado Sun. “There is a risk of lung damage, particularly when the patient needs high-pressure air. And, an intubated patient basically doesn’t move for days or weeks, leading to weak and atrophied muscles and a much more difficult recovery.”

Over time, doctors discovered that patients could survive well on less oxygen than the previously thought.

Once the use of ventilators dropped, so did mortality.

The reduction of ventilator use, plus the use of the steroid dexamethasone and the anti-viral drug remdesivir are treatment options that weren’t available at the start of the COVID crisis.

More importantly, viruses lose potency after a time.

“Every time a virus passes from one person to another, it goes through mutations,” says Lee Riley, MD, a professor and chair of the division of infectious disease and vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “Over time these mutations can accumulate, and the virulence of the virus can ultimately lessen.”

That’s why ultimately lockdowns hurt, further delaying a great American recovery.

That’s also why, Texas, ultimately, won’t usher in the Apocalypse now — no matter what the media says.

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