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Former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson on Monday shared portions of an email on Twitter from a “senior executive at a Texas ER chain” that dramatically downplays the so-called new ‘coronavirus crisis’ the state.
The executive, who was not identified, also provided information that could help explain why other states also appear to be experiencing a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
In the email, screenshots of which were tweeted by Berenson, the executive — self-identified as a “Managing Partner and General Counsel” of a Texas-based firm that owns and operates 13 “free-standing emergency clinics” in the state — explained that hospitals economically hard-hit by months of dramatically reduced patient loads due to the coronavirus pandemic have been incentivized to inflate COVID-19 numbers.
Wondering what’s really happening in Texas? Here’s the email, from a senior executive at a Texas ER chain that sees thousands of patients a month. He went on the record – a brave move. I’m going to let him speak for himself. (Two tweets of screenshots. Worth reading to the end.) pic.twitter.com/4xuBdTIFIc
— Alex Berenson (@AlexBerenson) June 30, 2020
“…[H]eard several stories of how discharge planners are being pressured to put Covid as primary diagnosis — as that pays significantly better,” the executive wrote. “Hospitals want to avoid the discussion but if they don’t they risk another shutdown.
“This may be an explanation for why there is a gap in hospital executives saying they have plenty of capacity and the increasing number of Covid hospitalizations. You open up your hospitals for normal medical care and you test every one of those patients — the result is a higher percentage of patients who have Covid,” the executive wrote.
As for the number of patients winding up in hospital intensive care units, “most” are not there for coronavirus.
Rather, the executive stated, “The hospital ICUs are filled with really sick people with non-covid issues. They didn’t come in earlier because they were scared and now they are super sick.”
The exec added: “From multiple sources at different hospitals — they have plenty of capacity and no shortage of acute care beds. No real data on breakdown of patients who have Covid but are not in the hospital because of Covid. Recognition that because all patients are tested for Covid you have some percentage of patients listed as Covid patients who are non Covid symptomatic and that the hospitalization rate is somewhat driven by hospitals taking their normal patients with other issues.”
Also, the executive noted that steep increases in testing are revealing higher “positive” numbers and that the “average age” of people tested at the facilities is “mid-30s.”
The executive wrote “strict criteria” put in place as the coronavirus pandemic began to rise and peak earlier this year prevented such patients from being tested before. But “now with more testing kits we are able to test a broader group of patients,” the executive wrote.
The anonymous official noted further that there are have been “very few hospital transfers” due to the virus and that the “vast majority” of “patients are better within 2-3 days of” their visit.
“Most,” the executive continued, “would be described as having a cold (a mild one at that) or the symptoms related to allergies.”
The executive says that “often” those patients are given “a steroid shot and some antibiotics. By the time we have follow up calls most of the patients are no longer experiencing any symptoms.”
“In terms of what is driving them to the ER — Roughly 1/2 have been told by their employers to get a test,” the executive continued. “They have a sneeze or a cough and their employer tells them to get tested. The other 1/2 just want to know. They have mild symptoms (and some don’t have any symptoms but game the system and check a box so they can get a test — they cannot get a test unless they present with symptoms.)
The executive’s explanations come amid several media reports describing the new spikes in cases in Texas, Florida, Arizona and other states as being far more serious.
For instance, NBC News, in a story headlined, “‘The explosion has to slow down’: Texas hospitals on edge as coronavirus cases surge,” quoted one hospital administrator as voicing concerns over capacity.
“Currently we have room, but things have to change. This is not good,” Dr. Faisal Masud, medical director of critical care medicine at the Houston Methodist hospital system, told the network.
But in the next quote, Masud appears to confirm the ER executive’s claims about surges in “super sick” patients who have been postponing going to the hospital during the pandemic over fears of contagion.
“The explosion of patients all across, that explosion has to slow down,” he added.
NBC News also quoted other medical organizations and physicians, none of whom attributed the rise in hospital admissions directly to COVID-19.
The report also noted:
Masud, who oversees eight hospitals in the Houston Methodist system, said facilities are under “tremendous stress” as they try to deal with the jump in cases, while trying to treat patients who have been waiting for procedures they should have had three months ago.
“We owe it to the non-COVID patient also,” he told NBC. “To me, a patient is a patient. If you have a person or a loved one who has a heart attack, am I not supposed to provide care to them?”
Throughout April and May, as hospitals canceled elective and other lucrative procedures in preparation for an onslaught of coronavirus patients that never came, many if not most laid-off personnel and cut existing staff hours.
Now, however, hospital officials are reluctant to cut back again despite a rise in coronavirus cases because they don’t want to suffer a loss of revenue again and because they appear to understand that most of new COVID-19 cases are mild or asymptomatic.
Nevertheless, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hit the “pause” button on reopening the state last week, ordering bars and other businesses where people gather closed again.
“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business,” he said.
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