By Sarah R. Champagne, Texas Tribune
After the first COVID-19 death in Texas — a 97-year-old man in Matagorda County who died March 15 — it took 53 days before the state reached 1,000 deaths. On Monday, Texas reached 4,020 deaths only 10 days after crossing the 3,000 threshold.
New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been rising fast across Texas since the beginning of June, and the number of deaths is now rising more quickly as well — a “very predictable” outcome, said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.
Over the last week, COVID-19 has killed an average of 112 people each day in Texas — nearly three times more than two weeks ago. On July 6, the seven-day average was 36 deaths per day.
Troisi said the real number of coronavirus-related deaths is higher.
“We can say for sure that deaths are undercounted,” she said. “If you die and you haven’t had a COVID-positive test, even if you have all of the symptoms, you’re not counted as COVID death.”
“It’s still an open question to know how much larger, but we do expect the true toll to be larger,” said Spencer Fox, associate director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
Both health experts said they expect deaths from the virus to continue climbing in Texas for several more weeks, even as some local health authorities see signs of hospitalizations from COVID-19 leveling off. For the past week, hospitalizations have swung between 10,471 and 10,658, for a seven-day average of 10,564.
Troisi said she wants to see at least two weeks of hospitalization numbers staying in the same range before calling it a plateau.
Hospital and county morgues are also filling up — especially in hard-hit South Texas — and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent 14 refrigerated trailers that are due to arrive in the state this week.
“What we’re actually doing is we want to be prepared ahead of time, in case there were a need across our state,” said Seth Christensen, a spokesperson for the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
With many funerals on hold because of pandemic restrictions, hospitals are seeing “a backlog of deceased patients,” Mario Martinez, San Antonio Metro Health assistant director, said last week.
Bexar County and the city of San Antonio secured three more refrigerated trailers last week, in addition to the two that are already operational.