Hospital leaders: New COVID-19 hospitalization rate metric not reflective of our true capacity


AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Amarillo area’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate was 11.54% on Wednesday, according to the Amarillo Public Health Department.

As first reported Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R-Texas) executive order GA-32 took effect Wednesday, changing how the hospitalization rate is calculated; however, that change to the COVID-19 hospitalization rate formula was already in effect. has been following the hospitalization rate closely since the governor announced business capacities depended on it back on Sept. 17, saying businesses in trauma service regions that were open at 75% capacity, would have to drop down to 50% capacity if their hospitalization rate rose above 15% for seven consecutive days.

The Amarillo area hit 15% last Monday, Oct. 5, and remained higher than 15%, reaching above 18% on Friday.

That day, the City of Amarillo said the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) told them they were implementing the new formula on Sunday, Oct. 11, four days before the governor’s executive order went into effect.

It is important to note, the Amarillo Public Health Department gets its hospitalization rate from DSHS. The city was also told that Friday that DSHS would not be sending out letters of restriction to counties based on the previous formula.

In Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, hospital leaders said this new formula is not an accurate reflection of bed capacity for coronavirus patients.

DSHS’s new COVID-19 hospitalization rate formula is: Lab confirmed COVID-19 patients currently in the hospital divided by total hospital capacity.

“On Friday, you mentioned the number was 18%. That number for Northwest today is 25% based on that calculation,” said Chief Medical Officer for Northwest Texas Hospital Dr. Brian Weis. “However, if we’re using the state’s new calculation, then we’re all the way back down to 12%. The problem is if you’re comparing apples to apples, we went from 18 to 25% in the last week.”

Dr. Weis said keeping beds open is critical, especially as NWTH is our area’s trauma center.

“We know that COVID-19 can primarily make adults very sick and need critical care, but so can trauma, heart attacks, strokes, or other serious infections. So if our critical care unit is full of people suffering from COVID-19, I cannot recruit a labor and delivery bed to take care of someone with heart attack that comes in. So again, critical care is a very limited resource for both hospitals,” Dr. Weis added.

Both NWTH and BSA Hospital have had to divert patients from other regional hospitals.

Dr. Michael Lamanteer, chief medical officer at BSA, said he is worried because there are no signs of new cases slowing down any time soon, especially as colder months approach.

“There’s the potential for co-infection with the flu and COVID-19, not to mention other respiratory viruses and illnesses and infections that increase the number of hospitalizations that we see throughout the fall and winter months.”

Dr. Lamanteer said even with this reduced formula, BSA is still edging closer to that 15% COVID-19 hospitalization rate.

Dr. Weis said reaching more than 15% would be devastating for Northwest and they would be gridlocked.

The City of Amarillo and our public health department also have contingency plans should our hospitals overflow with patients.

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