Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital discusses COVID-19 in virtual town hall

During a virtual community town hall presented from Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital on Thursday, Sept. 10, the hospital’s CEO and two of its physicians discussed the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Siebenaler, regional senior vice president and CEO; Dr. Sarfraz Aly, infectious diseases physician; and Kabir Rezvankhoo, critical care and emergency […]

During a virtual community town hall presented from Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital on Thursday, Sept. 10, the hospital’s CEO and two of its physicians discussed the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris Siebenaler, regional senior vice president and CEO; Dr. Sarfraz Aly, infectious diseases physician; and Kabir Rezvankhoo, critical care and emergency medicine physician, each offered insight into how the pandemic has played out across the nation, Texas, Fort Bend County and Houston Methodist hospitals.

Siebenaler said he had worked closely with Aly and Rezvankhoo to manage the pandemic’s impact at the hospital and keep the community healthy. He said Texas has experienced high case volumes, but the death rates have been less than expected. Nationally, he said of around 330 million people in the United States, there have been around 189,000 deaths from COVID-19.

“I highlight that because while there are things that we’re doing, washing our hands, potentially wearing a mask, just being very mindful what we should do and during flu season as well, perhaps not the social distancing you might see, but we should probably take more precautions during flu season than we historically have,” Siebenaler said. “And certainly COVID has shown us that if we wear masks and we social distance and we wash our hands, then we have an opportunity to keep things at bay.”

In Texas, he said there have been nearly 650,000 cases and roughly 14,000 deaths due to COVID-19, with most of the cases in larger cities like Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. He said Harris County had seen 112,000 cases and around 1,500 deaths, and Fort Bend County had seen 170 deaths. Siebenaler cautioned against saying there have only been 170 deaths because the numbers show there have been around 15,000 cases and that many of them were asymptomatic, spreading the virus and not knowing it.


“That’s the kind of a red flag I would throw out there that the numbers are ultimately understated because we don’t know who’s had it and who might have passed it on,” Siebenaler said.

He mentioned a discussion he had with Houston Methodist’s chief data scientist, who said the near future of COVID-19 in the Houston area rides on what happens as some students have started in-person learning and as people gathered for Labor Day weekend. So far, he said the emergency room visits have not really gone up over the past week, but that may increase over the next two weeks. Whether people wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands will also be key factors, Siebenaler said.

He said people gathering for post-graduation and summer events, marches and protests in late May and June led to a spike in cases at the Sugar Land hospital during July, followed by a greater push toward wearing masks and social distancing that drove the numbers back down. Siebenaler said when he goes out around the community now, more people are passing what he calls the H-E-B test, wearing their face coverings and keeping their distance at grocery stores.

The Methodist Hospital system is now treating about 200 COVID-19 patients across the Houston area, whereas there were between 700 to 750 COVID-19 patients during the peak in July, Siebenaler said. On Sept. 10, he said there were 24 COVID-19 patients being treated at the Sugar Land hospital.

Another important number Siebenaler mentioned is the Rt value, which at the time of the meeting for Fort Bend County was at .74, a positive sign because anything lower than 1 means that the virus is not as currently contagious.

Aly said people with COVID-19 can range from asymptomatic to having severe respiratory failure that can end in death. Fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches and fatigue can all be symptoms. Aly said people that are older tend to be hospitalized more. He pointed out that access to health care affects how well people fare with COVID-19.

“There are signs that people who have generalized accessibility to health care, have insurance, have many services and are able to get to the doctors, they do better. They see better outcomes,” Aly said.

He added that underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can play a major role in how patients do.

Rezvankhoo said currently the best sources of treatment options are from randomized controlled trials. He said supportive care is a dependable method. A 10-day course of steroids has given a 28-day decrease in deaths for the hospital’s patients, he said. The medication remdesivir is also being used.

Rezvankhoo brought up some myths about COVID-19. Some people believe that it is not any worse than the flu, but he said COVID-19 spreads easier.

“It becomes a super spreader,” he said. “So if you do become infected, you may go on up to a week of having no symptoms. And in that time period, you can potentially spread it to numerous people.”

Aly addressed the myth that wearing masks does not help. He said that by wearing them, people can greatly reduce the chances of transmitting the virus. Rezvankhoo said contrary to what some people are saying, wearing a mask will not elevate one’s carbon dioxide levels or make a person sick.

Siebenaler said over the past six months, Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital has treated patients with COVID-19 and adapted well to the situation through initiatives like taking temperatures of anyone who enters the building using an iPad and creating in-car curbside check-in for routine care patients.

“We’ve been able to manage that at the same time of managing COVID patients. That’s something that I think our whole team should feel proud of that we were able to figure this out real time,” Siebenaler said.

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