DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) -The federal government is sending medical teams to hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio areas amid a spike in coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations.
During an interview with CBS 11 Wednesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the government is acting on a request made by Governor Greg Abbott.
Secretary Azar said while Texas hospitals have enough total and ICU beds and ventilators, the biggest challenge is not having enough personnel to support the facilities.
“We’re continuing to advance on getting additional DOD (Department of Defense) and HHS personnel in there in addition to supporting Texas with hiring contract doctors, nurses, and nurses aides from elsewhere in the country to surge in and make sure those facilities are available,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported there are 9,610 people being treated for Covid-19 in hospitals across the state.
Earlier this week, the CEO of the DFW Hospital Council told CBS-11 some of the large hospital systems in North Texas have shifted some staffing and patients from some of their facilities to others amid the increase in hospitalizations.
He said if hospitalizations continue to rise at their current rate, North Texas hospitals would have to activate their surge plans in the next 2-3 weeks.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson also made a request for medical personnel to White House Coronavirus Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx last Friday.
During a news conference Wednesday, Dr. Birx announced what Secretary Azar described as a glimmer of positive news. “We are in Texas seeing what appears to be a decline in the rate of growth of ER presentations by individuals with Covid-like symptoms.”
But hours later Wednesday, Dallas County reported there was an increase of 200 E-R visits between Monday and Tuesday, to 786 — representing nearly 35 percent of all such visits in the county.
The state reported Wednesday there were 9,979 new cases of the virus since Tuesday.
They had increased by more than 10,000 the day before.
Azar praised Governor Abbott’s decision nearly two weeks ago to close bars and reduce in-dining capacity at restaurants from 75 to 50 percent.
He disagreed with the Governor’s Democratic critics who’ve said the state reopened too soon or should shut down more businesses until cases can decrease. “This isn’t about reopening. It’s about how we behave in reopening and of course, the Governor is saying if we don’t regulate ourselves, well, then some of those types of reopenings aren’t going to happen quite yet, like say the bars.”
He said Texans need to continue practice social distancing and wear masks when people can’t be six feet apart, and regularly wash their hands.
Federal funding for five community testing sites in Texas, including Dallas, is set to expire Tuesday.
State and local leaders have asked for an extension.
In Dallas June 28, Vice President Mike Pence pledged to give Texas the federal support for as long as it wants it.
Azar said, “We’re going to keep working with Governor Abbott to make sure he’s got what he needs. We’ll him and the Texas team up.”
The state said those five community sites are just one part of the tests the federal government provides.
Secretary Azar said his agency is providing surge testing to the McAllen-Edinburgh area in the Rio Grande Valley. “We are just deploying a new concept testing system.. that will deliver 5,000 tests per day, per day in that community. So we’re going to be there to keep supporting Texas with testing supplies, we’re surging in the supplies for the month of July that Texas needs and we’re supporting community-based testing.”
While experts say more testing for the virus is needed, Secretary Azar spoke about a new type, called pooled testing. “That means testing everybody in a multi-generational household with a single test. So if you put them altogether, you test them if it’s negative, everybody’s negative. If it’s positive, then you would go back and test the individuals in that household. That’s the type of testing we have to move to that will radically expand our testing capacities.”
He said the government is providing 600,000 to 700,000 Covid-19 tests per day and that close to 40 million tests have been administered so far.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH SEC. AZAR HERE