Texas power improves as water problems worsen: 5 things to know Friday

Approximately 300,000 Texas homes and businesses regained power in the past 24 hours as the number of people who lost access to drinking water nearly doubled in the same timeframe.  


Five things to know: 

1. The number of Texans affected by boil-water mandates nearly doubled in 24 hours. About 725 public drinking water systems out of the state's 7,000 are operating under boil-water notices, meaning approximately 13 million Texans do not have access to potable water, Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said during a Feb. 18 news conference. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were affected by boil-water notices. 

Lack of power, frozen or broken pipes, and/or high demand are causing water pressure to fall below levels required by the state for safety, which prompts the notice to boil water. That requires residents to either boil tap water for two minutes after it reaches a full rolling boil, or refrain from drinking tap water and resort to bottled water. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Feb. 18 that city residents can expect to operate under a boil-notice until Monday at the earliest, according to the Houston Chronicle

Boil-water notices cannot be lifted until one of the 135 accredited labs in the state completes a bacteriological sampling for the affected water system, which can take up to 24 hours, Mr. Baker said during a Feb. 17 news conference.

2. Many have regained power, but nearly 200,000 remain without. Website PowerOutage.US tracks 12.4 million Texas homes and businesses and shows just under 182,000 (1.4 percent) were without electricity at the time of publication. The percentage of unpowered homes and businesses is worse now in Mississippi: out of the 1.3 million homes and businesses tracked in Mississippi, 109,000 (8.4 percent) are without power. 

3. Water conservation strategies push hospitals to adjust staffing. MD Anderson is one Houston hospital that canceled all in-person appointments through Feb. 19 due to Houston's boil-water mandate. In an effort to conserve water, the hospital has moved to lean staffing, noting "it is important for our workforce members to stay away" from its campuses unless on-site presence is absolutely critical for patient care, research or facilities activities.

4. Loss of water resulted in the loss of heat Feb. 17 for St. David's South Austin Medical Center, as water feeds the facility's boiler. Hospital CEO David Huffstutler told local NBC affiliate KXAN Feb. 18 that a water truck came to the HCA hospital to alleviate the issues with the heating system. Thirty patients out of the hospital's 300 were transferred while the facility experienced heating issues. St. David's Medical Center and Heart Hospital of Austin experienced similar problems, with water trucks deployed to those facilities in addition to St. David's South Feb. 18. 

5. A total of 450 carbon monoxide-related calls were made to the Texas Poison Center Network since Feb. 11, a Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson told NPR Feb. 18, with some of those calls made en route to an emergency room or urgent care center. State and local officials say use of improper home heating sources caused most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning since the storm. At least 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning were reported in Harris County as of Feb. 16. That figure is likely an undercount, since the county's fire marshal said officials could not track the number of incidents and calls due to their high volume, according to NPR.

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