Coronavirus: Texas public health expert warns that ‘horrifying’ coronavirus surge should put state on ‘red alert’

Dr Peter Hotez sees signs that Houston could be headed for a New York-level disaster as hospitalisations rise

Andrew Naughtie
Thursday 25 June 2020 13:35
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Dr Peter Hotez warns Houston could see New York-level Covid crisis

A doctor and public health expert based in Houston, Texas warned Wednesday that the state’s record numbers of newly confirmed coronavirus cases could signal the start of a major disaster – one that could take Houston in the direction of New York City.

Speaking to the Houston Chronicle, Dr Peter Hotez, co-director of the Centre for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, gave a stark diagnosis of where Texas and its largest city currently stand, several weeks after most lockdown orders were lifted.

“It’s absolutely horrifying. I’m terribly upset about what I see happening. There were some predictive models out of Pennsylvania that actually showed this. This is why I didn’t want Texas to open up as early as it did.”

Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, was one of the first in the nation to allow his state to begin reopening for business after weeks in lockdown. He himself privately admitted at the time that doing so would result in more cases, but the plan went ahead nonetheless

However, the state’s seven-day average rate of positive tests has now surpassed the “warning level” Mr Abbott himself set, and the number of cases hit a record 5,551 on Wednesday – the previous record having been set the day before.

Dr Hotez has been sounding the alarm for several weeks, especially in recent days. One interview with a local ABC station saw him warning that the city of Houston is seeing trends reminiscent of the outbreak New York, by far the US’s worst-hit city so far.

“People can make the argument, well, if you’re seeing an increase in the number of cases, maybe that’s due to more efficient testing or expanded testing, but one thing you cannot hide are the hospitalisations and the ICU cases ...

“Look, right now we’re at about half ICU capacity … if those numbers continue to rise over the next week or so, we may be in a situation where we see a situation that’s similar to what happened in New York City over the spring, in which there’s a big surge and it becomes difficult to manage so many patients.

“And that’s where the death rate starts to go up, the mortality rate starts going up. So one of the reasons I’m speaking out about this is I want to prevent that situation for our city.”

Dr Hotez testified to Congress at the beginning of March, when the US outbreak was just beginning to gather steam, that his team at Texas Children’s Hospital had in fact had a vaccine for a different coronavirus strain “ready to go” in 2016, but that back then, “nobody was interested in a coronavirus vaccine” and they could not obtain sufficient funding to proceed.

More than three months on, Dr Hotez told the Chronicle the state’s response has now slipped backwards to a dangerous point.

“I think we should be on red alert for coronavirus threat level. We need to head in that direction. Six months into this epidemic, and we’re basically to square one.”

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