Texas continued this weekend to brace for a surge in hospital visits driven by the coronavirus pandemic as the state’s death toll rose to more than 250.
Officials in Harris County unveiled a temporary overflow hospital that will be able to help take on patients during a heightened onslaught of COVID-19. Medical workers and journalists were taken on a tour of the as-yet-unopened facility on the day the U.S. eclipsed Italy for the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, surpassing 20,000.
Harris County is the state’s most populous with more than 4.2 million residents.
“We still haven’t reached the peak,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s highest elected official, told reporters Saturday. Hidalgo added the field hospital won’t be used until a sharp increase in coronavirus patients starts taxing existing hospital systems, which she expects to become an issue in the Houston area in two or three weeks.
The overflow shelter at Houston’s NRG Park, where the Houston Texans play, will initially have 250 beds with a capacity of 2,000. Officials are setting up a similar overflow unit in Dallas.
Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that Texas is “beginning to slow the growth of the coronavirus.” He said he would issue an executive order next week laying out how Texas will eventually reopen for business. It is unclear when a loosening of restrictions might happen. Abbott put Texas under what amounts to a stay-at-home order until April 30.
As of Saturday, Texas officials confirmed about 12,500 people had tested positive for COVID-19, and 254 had died. Around 1,600 people have recovered from the disease.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.