Researchers warn COVID-19 death numbers are expected to significantly increase in Texas


AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday, Texas reported a record 174 new coronavirus deaths. The state is now averaging over 100 COVID-19 deaths a day, and researchers warn those daily death numbers are expected to continue to climb.

“The way these trends work is cases will increase, then hospitalizations, and then mortality,” explained Dr. Spencer Fox, Associate Director of the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

He said, “It’s clear the pandemic has been surging in Texas for about the past four weeks, and we can see through looking at the hospitalization trends how they’ve increased over the past four weeks. We expect mortality, therefore, to follow that hospitalization, so we should expect mortality to continue to increase for at least four weeks.”

Statewide, Fox said we were seeing about 2,000 hospitalizations in April, May and June. That number has increased five-fold now to 10,000.

Assuming we see roughly the same mortality rate, he told KXAN that means the number of deaths per day is projected to go from 30 to 150.

Difficult grieving process for loved ones

For people who lost loved ones to COVID-19, “the grieving process is broken, really,” said Stuart King,
Funeral Director of King-Tears Mortuary.

“One thing that broke my heart is the grandchildren that live out of town that have young babies, they can’t fly in to see grandmother, so they have to do everything from live stream,” King told KXAN.

He also thinks the grieving process will be longer for these families.

“They can’t get the support that they usually get,” King said. “You can’t take food by the house anymore. You can’t go by and hug. You can’t hug at the service.”

He said handling COVID-19 deaths has been tough for funeral homes, too. They have to wear personal protective equipment and get screened before going to the hospital to get the body.

Additionally, King said, “When we talk to the hospital, they tell us don’t come until the droplets settle.”

When someone dies at their home, “We don’t know if they’re positive or not when we make that removal. We don’t know if the whole family’s affected just by their loved one being infected,” King said.

Preparing for the worst case scenario

Local and state officials are preparing for a worst case scenario, trying to make sure there’s enough room to store bodies as death rates from COVID-19 continue to climb.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management has 14 mortuary trucks coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

TDEM Spokesperson told KXAN the trucks will be sent to different areas of Texas and be ready, just in case a city or county needs to use it.

They said this is no different than preparing for hurricanes or tornadoes. This is all out of an abundance of caution.

Separately, Travis County is getting three refrigerated trailers.

Austin city officials said they can’t say where the mobile trailers will be located.

They sent a statement:

“Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations has a fatality management task force that is in close communication with our local funeral home and crematory directors, monitoring their ability to absorb a possible increase in fatalities due to COVID-19.

In the event they are over capacity, Travis County and City of Austin are making plans to stand up additional, temporary storage capacity in the interest of protecting public health. Those plans have been in the works for several months. Preparations for a phased activation of our fatality management plan are currently underway.”

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