AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Some Texas hospitals updated policies for visitors as COVID-19 variants continue to spread in the state.

Roughly 5,000 Texans are currently hospitalized because of COVID-19 — the most since March 4.

Baylor Scott & White Health, which has locations in North and Central Texas, updated its visitor policy on Tuesday. Non-COVID patients are allowed one visitor at a time over the age of 16. Pediatric patients and neonatal intensive care unit patients are allowed up to two visitors.

COVID-19 patients are not allowed any visitors, with a few exceptions. Patient and visitor screening and masking protocols are unchanged.

“These are not new policies, they were policies we had before, when the COVID cases were very high,” said Dr. Rob Watson, chief medical officer for Baylor Scott & White Health’s Greater Austin region.

“We’re trying to protect our patients, we’re trying to protect our staff, we’re trying to protect their family members,” he added.

At a press conference with community health leaders in Amarillo, Northwest Texas Healthcare System chief medical officer Dr. Brian Weis said most furniture was removed from the main waiting room and capacity was restricted in the surgery waiting room, in a process similar to the protocols during 2020.

“The numbers are all going in the wrong direction, unfortunately,” Weis said. “What are we doing about it — we’re going — we’re hunkering down again.”

In Lubbock, UMC Health System updated its visitor policy this week. Non-COVID patients can have visitors two visitors per day of all ages. End-of-life patients can have five visitors at a time with no maximum number of visitors, according to an advisory from the hospital system.

COVID-19 patients at UMC Health System cannot have visitors, except under specific circumstances:

  • Family Birth Center may have one coach or partner per patient
  • Patients under 18 may have two visitors per patient per day
  • NICU may have mother + one other visitor 
  • End of Life may have up to two visitors at a time with prior authorization

Masks are required for staff, patients and visitors.

“Due to the significant increase in COVID-related hospitalizations in our community, St. David’s HealthCare is moving to a more restricted visitation policy this week,” a St. David’s HealthCare spokesperson said in a statement last week. “Additionally, we continue to practice evidence-based protocols for controlling the spread of COVID-19.”

“Universal masking remains in effect for visitors, patients and staff at all facilities. Our priority is to protect patients, physicians, staff and the community—and to reduce the risk of transmission within our sites of care,” the spokesperson for the Austin area hospital and emergency room system stated. “We will continue to modify our response protocols as the needs within our community evolve.”

Regardless of the city, the visitation policies implemented during the pandemic have far-reaching impacts for staff, patients and their families.

Watson, at Baylor Scott & White, acknowledged the challenges that reinstating stricter visitor policies can put on staff, patients and families.

“When people are sick, they want to be around their families, they want to have visitors and so when we limit that the number of people they can have, you know, it can have an impact on their recovery in some instances,” he said.

“Our nurses and doctors are always trying to communicate with families, even when they’re outside the facility, but it puts an added responsibility on us to make sure people know what’s going on with the care of their loved ones,” he explained. “So I think it makes it tougher, but I think it’s a safer environment at the moment while we see cases going up.”

Dr. Michael Lamanteer, chief medical officer for BSA Health Systems in Amarillo, said vaccinations and personal responsibility in following medical guidance would help Texas communities respond to the increasing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

“Even those that are getting infected that have been vaccinated, the bulk of those patients are doing very well with minimal symptoms,” he explained. “We urge you to get vaccinated, we urge you to be careful.”