Dr. Heather Hamilton said her job, and that of her fellow physicians in the Memorial Hermann Health System, is to stay calm, levelheaded and focused on providing quality medical care to members of the Houston community.
Hamilton, a primary care physician at Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Greater Heights, said she and her colleagues have done that well during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s getting increasingly difficult.
During the last several weeks, the Houston region has seen a steady spike in COVID-19 cases as well as hospitalizations and deaths related to the contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus. Hamilton said the increase has been felt throughout the hospital system, including at her office at 1431 Studemont St. and at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital at 1635 N Loop W.
“The emotional toll that it takes on my patients and their families is something that I take on,” she said. “Talking to the hospital teams, they are emotionally invested in the care they give their patients. It is hard to see all ages getting really sick and having to go to the ICU and a lot of deaths – more deaths than they see on a regular basis.”
As of Wednesday, Houston and Harris County health officials had reported a total of 58,480 COVID-19 cases among residents, with the disease having caused at least 560 deaths and 19,129 patients having recovered. In the six zip codes served by The Leader – 77007, 77008, 77009, 77018, 77091 and 77092 — there have been a total of 3,120 cases of COVID-19 with 22 deaths and 477 recoveries.
The numbers of cases and deaths in the area have nearly doubled during the last three weeks.
“We need to stay ahead of this,” said Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department. “You may not know anybody who’s sick. You may not know anybody who’s died … yet.”
Intensive care units in Harris County hospitals were 97.6 percent full as of Tuesday, with nearly half of those patients being confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, according to data compiled by the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council. There were a total of 1,768 COVID-19 patients in Harris County hospitals and 720 in intensive care.
There were more than 800 COVID-19 patients at Memorial Hermann facilities on Tuesday, according to a health system spokesperson. Hamilton said the Greater Heights hospital is among the locations “getting hit particularly hard,” which has forced the hospital to bring in extra staff and extra beds to meet the demand.
“We are in the peak of the surge,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said she and her colleagues are finding that the source of many new COVID-19 infections are small gatherings among family members or friends who are not practicing adequate social distancing or wearing masks when grouped together. She said those kinds of environments are just as risky as traveling or social settings.
While realizing that Houstonians may be “getting fatigued” in terms of distancing themselves from others and taking safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Hamilton said it’s important for the community to remain vigilant.
“We really want to stress that it’s too soon to stop,” Hamilton said. “It’s too soon to stop social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands. This virus is very prevalent.”