Kaysie Ellingson contributed to this story.
Emergency medical tents provided by the state will alleviate some stress on Lubbock’s hospital capacity. At least medical experts hope so.
On Thursday morning, a team of workers installed copper piping throughout one tent on the Covenant Health campus in Central Lubbock. It’ll be ready for patients early next week. A tent was also issued to University Medical Center.
They’ll be able to treat 60 COVID-19 patients a day at the Covenant location.
Dr. Dennis Duriex is an infectious disease specialist at Covenant Medical Center. He said the patients they see here will have less severe or early signs of COVID-19.
“What we’re hoping to do here with this infusion tent is to actually take patients who have COVID, start effective antiviral therapy early in the course of the disease so hopefully we can prevent the disease from getting worse and prevent a trip to the emergency room," Duriex said.
The antiviral therapy may include a newly-approved treatment Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said could be available in Lubbock as early as next week. The governor said the drug has been shown to improve the symptoms of people who contract the virus, preventing hospitalizations. Abbott spoke with local news station KCBD on Wednesday.
“We are going to start distributing this new antibody therapy by Eli Lilly in just a few days across the state of Texas," the governor said. "Obviously with Lubbock being hit the way it is by COVID-19, I would assume Lubbock would be a priority for this drug.”
The city’s hospitals are in a crisis as coronavirus continues to spread widely in the community.
A record number of people who have the coronavirus were hospitalized in Lubbock on Thursday. There are 285 patients struggling with COVID-19 complications - 81 of those people are in intensive care. COVID hosptilizations have accounted for more than 15% of total patients in Lubbock's 22-county trauma service region for nearly a month.
Lubbock has also seen an increase in COVID-related deaths. Less than two weeks into the month, 56 people have died with the disease in November. That’s 21% of total COVID-deaths since March.
And case numbers aren’t getting better.
“Right now, it seems like everybody is catching COVID," Dr. Craig Rhyne, regional chief medical officer for Covenant Health, said earlier this week. "We have a lot of people who don’t' seem to believe this is a problem. It is a huge, huge problem.”
As of Thursday, 4,669 people in Lubbock actively have the virus. That’s just lab-confirmed diagnoses.
It’s become normal for hundreds of new cases to be confirmed daily. Because of that, Dr. Deriex said the medical tents could be needed for a while.
“I have no idea how long," he said, adding that the tent can be modified if needed. "We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The Lubbock County Medical Society sent a letter to city leaders Thursday asking for better enforcement of COVID precautions like limiting gatherings and masking. The letter stressed the dire situation hospitals and healthcare workers are in.
City Councilman Steve Massengale, who is also co-chair of Lubbock’s Economic Recovery Taskforce, said he is worried about the current trends in Lubbock. He added, though, that under state guidelines, local government’s hands are kind of tied. State orders have superseded most local ones since the summer.
“It’s frustrating to sit in our position and try to make decisions to protect the health of the community," Massengale said Thursday. "But we’re limited on what we can do.”
In El Paso, one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in the U.S., city, county and state officials are going back-and-forth on spread prevention measures. But, El Paso County has been able to uphold a stay-at-home and shutdown order for non-essential businesses.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support local non-profit journalism. Thanks for donating today.