Exterior of the Denton County Public Health building.

As Denton County continues to see increased COVID-19 activity, now reporting over 400 additional cases on consecutive days, four of its hospitals have requested a total of 134 personnel from the state, according to County Judge Andy Eads.

The personnel requests were filed as STARs (State of Texas Assistance Requests) through the Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton requested 26 personnel Nov. 4, Carrollton Regional Medical Center requested 42 personnel for 150 days Nov. 18, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Flower Mound requested 14 personnel for 45 days Thursday and Medical City Denton requested 52 personnel for 60 days Tuesday.

Texas Health Presbyterian in Denton received some of the requested personnel last week, and Carrollton Regional Medical Center was approved for 22 personnel, expected to start next week.

Eads said he appreciated “the proactive natures of the hospitals,” before they hit capacities. The temporary additions will assist the hospitals with the increased occupancy they’ve experienced throughout the pandemic, as well as COVID-19 patients requiring labor-intensive treatments. The personnel requests are for staff who could assist with these patients, such as registered nurses, respiratory therapists and paramedics.

“If there were an overflow, they can work with each other to reallocate the resources and patients,” Eads said.

While none of the county’s hospitals has reached maximum capacity during the pandemic, they do have overflow plans in place that could send patients to other hospitals in the county or the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Eads said some have patients from elsewhere in the state.

Total inpatient hospital occupancy came in at 73.3% as of Tuesday afternoon, with 266 beds available in the county. Adult intensive care unit occupancy came in at 76.7%, with 20 available beds, and ventilator usage was tracked at 24.6%. Eads said the main concern for hospitals at this point is that patients are simply sick for longer, lowering the rate at which beds become available.

“What is concerning is when I speak to the hospital CEOs, we’re seeing the population is sicker — and they’re sick longer,” Eads said. “The beds are not turning like in a traditional flu season.”

The percentage of total inpatient hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 patients came in at 16.6% Tuesday, well above the 15% threshold set by Gov. Greg Abbott for bars and nightclubs to remain open. However, the state looks at the seven-day average for the rate, based on an entire trauma service area rather than individual counties. Denton County’s seven-day average for COVID-19 inpatient capacity is 14.8% as of Tuesday.

Eads said the county has not identified bars as a particular area of transmission for the virus, maintaining that household spread and general community spread are the two main culprits, and that he believes it’s “to be determined” if state closures of those businesses would result in a tangible difference in coronavirus activity.

Eads also reiterated what he has said in past weeks regarding Denton County’s role in controlling the spread of the virus: that it has “fully exhausted” the measures the state allows local governments access to. He said the county is focusing on contact tracing and communicating health recommendations to the public, and that slowing the spread ultimately falls on residents.

“This is not about the state taking action or not taking action — this is about the public taking action or not taking action,” Eads said. “People need to listen to the advice that our health professionals are recommending. … This is not about the government controlling peoples’ lives, it’s about people listening to the recommendations of the health care professionals.”

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