Amid an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalizations in Fort Bend County, area hospital CEOs wrote a letter Nov. 17 urging county residents to exercise caution and limit family gatherings for Thanksgiving, a sentiment shared by County Judge KP George.

The letter was signed by Chris Siebenaler, CEO of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital; Malisha Patel, CEO of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital; Joe Freudenberger, CEO of OakBend Medical Center; and Steven Foster, the South Houston market president of St. Luke’s Health System.

“Beginning with Thanksgiving, and continuing through the New Year, we must be extra vigilant in our celebrations and our daily activities to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19,” the panel of medical leaders wrote. “Slowing the spread throughout our community and protecting those who are most vulnerable is the best holiday gift we can give this year.”

The reminder of the guidelines and recommendations issued by health experts at the start of the pandemic comes at a time when the cases have increased, according to the county’s COVID-19 data hub. While cases leveled off dramatically in September and October after a summer surge of 3,034 confirmed positive tests spanning from June 28-July 28, according to the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC), a second wave of cases has begun to spread across the U.S., with El Paso and Lubbock being among the hardest-hit cities affected by this latest surge.

During a 30-day span from Oct. 20-Nov. 20, the county has seen 1,846 new cases, and the positivity rate has also increased from between 3 to 4 percent to approximately 10 percent at local testing centers and hospitals over the past month. The peak of this latest spike was 210 cases on Nov. 12, the highest figure since Aug. 23, when 606 confirmed cases were reported.

As of Nov. 20, 17,457 patients recovered of the 19,095 confirmed cases in Fort Bend County and 276 had died due to COVID-19. The county has issued 78,171 tests. The county’s Department of Health and Human Services began reporting antibody and antigen testing on Oct. 1, and as of Nov. 20, there were 929 positive antibody tests and 1,241 antigen tests.

Antigen tests look for pieces of proteins that make up the virus to determine if someone has an active infection, while serology — the study of blood diagnostics and the response of the immune system to pathogens —  looks for antibodies against the virus in the blood to determine if one was previously infected, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The hospital executives urged residents to continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks. They advised holding any gatherings outdoors and “limiting holiday gatherings and protecting those who may be at high risk such as the elderly or friends/family members with pre-existing conditions or weakened immune systems.”

Additionally, they recommended in-person celebrations be limited to individuals already residing within a household and to “reach out virtually to other friends and family members.”

The area’s hospital leaders also said if county residents must travel that they should adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols.

George shared a copy of the letter in a Nov. 19 Facebook post, while also encouraging residents to continue to get tested for the coronavirus as well as obtain a flu shot and keep taking cues from local health officials.

“Fort Bend hospitals are preparing for the alarming COVID-19 trends in our community,” George wrote. “Like you I am hopeful about the vaccine efficacy news, but we are months away from widely available distribution.

“We are Texans. We overcome struggles of every kind and emerge stronger and more resilient. Let us use all the tools at our disposal to fight COVID-19.”

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