The Brazos County Health District on Thursday confirmed five new positive COVID-19 cases, making 68 total cases in the county, and the fourth death in the county related to the virus.

The fourth death was a woman in her 90s who had been hospitalized. Of the 68 cases, seven patients remain in the hospital, according to Brazos County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan.

He noted three people who had the virus have recovered, which means at least seven days have passed since the onset of the illness, the patient has gone three days without a fever and is doing well otherwise.

As of Thursday’s 4:30 p.m. press conference, which included the mayors of Bryan and College Station and representatives from CHI St. Joseph Health and Baylor Scott & White systems, there had been 1,222 tests performed in the county.

The county’s infection rate is 3.09 per 10,000 people, which puts it higher than the state’s rate of 1.6 per 10,000 people and higher than Travis, Dallas and Harris counties, Sullivan said.

Sullivan and the other officials in the room all noted social distancing is working, but they warned a surge is still in the county’s future before the virus reaches its peak.

“What our hospital partners have already done and are continuing to do is to anticipate for the greatest number that that could be,” Sullivan said in response to a question from The Eagle, noting the hospitals have implemented innovative changes to handle that expected increase. “We are interested to know when that could be and how big that could be. … I’ll tell you what’s clear about all [the models] is it has to do with how closely we are together.”

Theron Park, CHI St. Joseph Health president and CEO, said there are three components to consider when preparing for a surge in cases: facility needs, staffing needs and equipment needs.

He noted a team is looking at multiple models that can be compared to those three components to determine the gaps that exist and work to fill those gaps.

Dr. William Rayburn, chief medical officer for Baylor Scott & White, said the preparation requires walking through various what-if scenarios.

“What if we have 15 patients that are on ventilators?” he said as an example. “And what if we have to close a unit off and change the way the air moves in that unit? What if we have more people than doctors to care for them? How do we redeploy our workforce so that we can take care of them? How do we bring more nurses in?”

Sullivan said they are aware rural cases in surrounding counties may need to be treated in Brazos County hospitals.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Robertson County has two cases, Milam County has two cases, Burleson County has one case, Grimes County has three cases, Leon County has two cases and Washington County has 17 confirmed cases. As of noon Wednesday, Madison County did not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Kia Parsi, chief medical officer at CHI St. Joseph Health, said the precautionary measures have helped give hospitals time to prepare without a specific timeline of when the virus’ surge and peak will occur.

Currently in the St. Joseph system, there are 24 ICU beds and 12 intermediate care beds that could be converted to create a total of 36 potential ICU beds. The system also has 120 machines that are traditional ventilators or machines that can be converted for the purpose.

As of Thursday, Parsi said, the Bryan location was at 60% capacity, with its College Station facility lower.

Baylor Scott & White has 16 ICU beds and, as of Thursday, had five patients on ventilators. In the region, including Baylor Scott & White’s Brenham locations, there are seven positive COVID-19 patients with nine under investigation.

Since the hospital implemented testing, Rayburn said, there have been 520 tests given, with 38 patients testing positive. As of the press conference, the hospital was at about 50% capacity. The system has a total of 27 ventilators, with 13 for adults, two for children and 12 in the anesthesia department.

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