Is There Enough Medical Personnel to Treat COVID-19 Patients?

A lot is happening, and it may be hard to find time to read the things that could impact your family, friends, and neighbors. Today’s digest gives you some bullet points.

  • There is not enough medical personnel statewide, city keeps watchful eye on ICU beds
  • Clay Jenkins has had enough of your nonsense
  • The TEA says it won’t rate schools next year
  • The FDA reduces restrictions on blood donation
  • On the calendar: Carter Bloodcare holds blood drive in Preston Hollow
  • Savor will match food bank, Furlough Kitchen donations
Not Enough Medical Personnel Statewide, City Keeps Watchful Eye on ICU Beds

As personal protective equipment is in short supply and scientists continue to learn more about exactly how contagious COVID-19 is, the state – and the city – is bracing for a shortage of both caregivers and critical care beds.

According to the most recent data available from the city of Dallas (new numbers are due today), roughly 54% of all 2,868 hospital beds are occupied at the eight hospitals reporting. When you look at ICU beds, there are 361 total – and 204 are occupied, or 56.5%. There are 342 ventilators available, and as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, 138 were in use, or 40%.

However, for the second day in a row, Dallas County reported 100 new cases of the novel coronavirus. The county death count from COVID-19 is now 17, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins warned Wednesday that there will be many more cases.

“We’re beginning to see the curve rise,” he said. “This is to be expected. It’s not a cause of a panic.”

That same day, county officials said the number of ICU hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus in the last week exceeded the peak week of ICU hospitalizations related to influenza in the 2019-2020 flu season.

But while (for now) ICU and hospital beds may be mostly available, the most pressing need has been – and always has been – having enough medical professionals to treat patients. In March, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that allowed out-of-state doctors to get fast-tracked licensing so they could begin working in the state quickly.

The governor announced his order would also loosen requirements for emergency medical technicians.

“Under the Governor’s direction, local medical directors for licensed EMS providers can permit individuals who are qualified, though not formally certified, to provide critical emergency response services for patients treated and transported by the EMS provider,” the announcement said.

Another order on March 25 allowed retired nurses an easier path to become active nurses again, and for student nurses to enter the workforce early. Nursing staffing, however, has always been an issue even prior to COVID-19 reaching the state. The Texas Nurses Association estimates that by 2030, the deficits for licensed vocational nurses, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and certified nurse-midwives will reach the tens of thousands in some cases.

The supply of full-time equivalent (or FTE) registered nurses is already at a deficit, and has been at one since 2015, the organization’s most recent report explained.

“By 2030, the supply of RN FTEs is expected to grow by 35.4% to 271,667, while demand will grow by 53.8% to 331,638, deficit of 59,970 RN FTEs. Based on these projections, 20% of the projected demand for RNs in 2030 will not be met,” the report said.

Thursday, Self Financial sent out an analysis of states and their medical staffing, using Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census data.

“Nationwide, there are 3.9 healthcare workers for every 100 residents,” the analysis said. “Of all states, Texas has the ninth fewest healthcare workers per capita in the U.S.”

The Dallas-Fort-Worth-Arlington region, Self Financial’s report said, has 3.67 healthcare workers per 100 residents, or 276,560 for a population numbering about 7,540,371.

Statewide, there are about 992,000 healthcare workers to treat 28,701,845 people. Nationally, there are 12,764,180 workers for 327,167,439 people.

Clay Jenkins Has Had Enough of Your Nonsense

Clay Jenkins is about to get really tough with businesses who continue to flout his order for only essential businesses to be open, he said in a Thursday press conference.

Jenkins issued a cease and desist order to Hobby Lobby, who has famously resisted any efforts to shut its locations down as state after state moves to some form of shelter-in-place.

Dallas County sheriff’s deputies posted Jenkins’ order on the doors of the Preston Road Hobby Lobby.

“Someone who is not a hero and who I want to call out specifically, and I’ll be calling out others like this … is the corporation Hobby Lobby,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins said that the store isn’t essential to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling the decision to stay open “foolish” and that the decision places profit over public health.

“There are plenty of places to buy yarn and art supplies that are fully compliant with our orders and have robust online platforms,” he said, adding that staying open when other businesses have obeyed the mandate is a “slap in the face to the businesses that are following this order.”

“I just want to make it clear to Hobby Lobby and anyone else who is foolish enough to follow in their footsteps that in Dallas County, the government and 99.9% of the business community puts public health over profits,” he added.

Residents who see businesses that may not be considered essential in violation of the order can report them, Jenkins said, at www.DallasCountyCovid.org.

And in the meantime, he warned Hobby Lobby and other businesses to do the right thing – before they’re forced to do it.

“If you work at Hobby Lobby and you work in management, go ahead and lock up and leave as soon as possible,” said Jenkins.“If they have a lick of sense they’ll close down before we get there.”

TEA Won’t Rate Schools Next Year

There will be no A-F grades next year – which stands to reason since Texas Education Agency Commissioner and Gov. Greg Abbott announced in March that the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (or STAAR) test was also canceled.

On Thursday, Morath said that the U.S. Department of Education had granted the state a waiver for statewide assessment and accountability requirements for this school year.

That step allows the state to give all districts and campuses a label of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.”

“TEA submitted a federal assessment and accountability waiver on March 24, 2020, and will issue labels indicating ‘Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster’ for 2020 to recognize that the closure of schools during the state’s testing window inhibited the ability of the state to accurately measure district and campus performance,” Morath wrote superintendents Thursday.

So what implications will this have on funding and improvement plans? Morath’s letter said that while no ratings will be issued for 2020, if a school or district had a rating of D or F in 2019 and an overall rating or domain rating of D or F in 2021 will be considered to be consecutive–something that could have implications for schools and districts who find themselves on the cusp of a multiple-year unacceptable status.

And districts or campuses who are on turnaround plans are still encouraged to implement that approved turnaround plan, and implement any previously ordered sanctions and interventions the TEA may have mandated

“Campuses identified for comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement, and additional targeted support in 2019 will maintain that label and interventions for 2020–2021,” Morath added.

Texas isn’t the only state to get a waiver – on March 31, the U.S. Dept. of Education issued a blanket waiver to all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and U.S. territories.

FDA Reduces Restrictions on Blood Donations, But With Big Caveats

Citing an “urgent and immediate need for blood and blood components,” the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it was reducing restrictions on who can give blood – but there are some caveats.

Until Thursday, male donors who have had sex with another man, or women who have had sex with a man who has done so, had to wait 12 months since the last instance to give blood. The FDA’s newest guidelines shortens that time to three months.

Those who have gotten piercings or tattoos can also give blood now if it has been three months since their last tattoo or piercing.

“Based on recently completed studies and epidemiologic data, the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply,” the FDA’s announcement said. “Therefore, the FDA is revising recommendations in several guidances regarding blood donor eligibility.

“These changes are being put forth for immediate implementation and are expected to remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, with any appropriate changes based on comments we receive and our experience implementing the guidances.”

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in a briefing that HIV-positive people are still barred from giving blood. Peter Marks, the FDA’s director of the Center for Biologics and Evaluation Research said at the same briefing that those taking pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection can still donate, as long as they are not using the medication and are also HIV positive.

On the Calendar: Blood Drive at Lowe’s

Carter Bloodcare will be at Lowe’s Home Improvement at Inwood Drive and Forest Lane April 4 beginning around 11 a.m. However, you do need an appointment to give blood as part of the center’s COVID-19 precautions. To make an appointment, click here. To see other opportunities to give blood, click here.

Savor Will Match Food Bank, Furlough Kitchen Donations

A day after sharing that they dropped off meals for the medical personnel at UT Southwestern, the owners and management of Savor in Klyde Warren Park announced that they would continue the giving.

The restaurant will now match every dollar donated to the North Texas Food Bank’s ShiftSmart and Food4Kids programs, as well as to Furlough Kitchen, up to $50,000.

“The North Texas Food Bank’s ShiftSmart initiative pays unemployed workers to pack boxes of food for vulnerable populations. The organization’s Food4Kids program provides backpacks full of nutritious, non-perishable, kid-friendly food to children,” Savor’s press release explained. “Lastly, the Furlough Kitchen program provides free meals to hospitality workers who are unemployed.”

To have your donation matched head to the NTFB or Furlough Kitchen donation pages, and indicate it is for the Savor Fund.

Savor, like many restaurants in the area, has pivoted to a curbside pickup model. To order a meal, call 214-306-5597.

 

 

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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