The University of Texas Medical Branch once again is limiting access to its hospitals and taking greater precautions against the COVID-19 virus because of a precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases, officials said.
On Monday, the medical branch announced fewer people would be allowed inside its facilities as visitors. People being treated at the medical branch for COVID-19 will not be allowed visitors in most cases, and people in the hospital for other reasons will be allowed only a single visitor.
Visitors also will be limited in units for women, infants and children, in emergency rooms and in clinics.
“We have seen a worrying increase in the number of COVID patients across all of our hospitals,” said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, the medical branch’s chief medical officer. “We as doctors and nurses have seen this before and we know how to best treat our patients, but we need our community to help us as well.”
The medical branch had similar visitor limits earlier in the pandemic but lifted them as local cases began to drop. Now, the trends are on the reverse again.
On Monday, the medical branch announced 396 more local people had been diagnosed with the virus between Friday and Sunday. The number of active cases in the county is at its highest level since May, and the average number of cases being identified daily are at their highest levels since February.
The number of active cases and new daily cases is still below the numbers seen in other surges in COVID-19 in the summer of 2020 and early months of 2021.
The earliest sign in a local surge of cases was the report of dozens of infections related to a League City church camp. However, the number of cases reported in recent days is because of far more than just the camp, Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser said.
“It’s all over the community,” Keiser said.
Local health officials have blamed the local spread on the highly contagious delta variant of the virus, which is spreading primarily through unvaccinated people.
As of Monday, 155,008 people in Galveston County were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. About 54 percent of people eligible to be vaccinated in the county have been fully vaccinated.
Another 15,942 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The medical branch specifically cited an increase in the number of people being hospitalized by COVID-19 as its reason for implementing renewed precautions. Over the past week, the number of people being treated for COVID-19 in medical branch hospitals has increased from about 50 to more than 90, according to the medical branch.
Sharma urged people to get vaccinated, and if they’re feeling sick to be tested for COVID-19. Keiser said he recommended people again begin wearing masks whenever they’re in public, including when they’re outside and around other people. He also urged people to get vaccinated.
“I want people to get vaccinated,” Keiser said “People who are being hard-headed about this are going to learn a hard lesson. It’s spreading much more rapidly, much more rapidly than the other surges.”
What’s different about the current surge is the lack of power and interest to stop it using widespread measures, Keiser said. Last summer and earlier this year, when cases surged, Gov. Greg Abbott and local officials took measures to limit public gatherings. Beaches and bars were closed for periods of time, and restaurants were ordered to limit capacity.
Over the course of the pandemic, however, Abbott and state lawmakers have placed new limits on who can issue such orders, and there’s little indication that the governor or the Legislature is interested in issuing mandates to stop the current surge.
The medical branch announced it was reopening a public COVID testing site on Harborside Drive to accommodate people seeking COVID tests. COVID tests also are available at the medical branch’s urgent care clinics.
The medical branch announced earlier this month it was once again requiring people to wear face masks inside its hospitals and clinics because of the rise in COVID cases.
The medical branch is the largest health care provider in Galveston County and operates hospitals in Galveston and League City.