Texas Stops “Elective Surgeries”: An Immunologist Explains What’s At Stake

Infection and Spread Staying Safe

Yesterday the governor of Texas – the beloved home state of Nerdy Girls Jenn and Lindsey – announced that elective surgeries are being placed on hold in several cities as the state experiences a surge of COVID hospitalizations.

To understand the related implications, this Nerdy Girl (Lindsey) hopped on the phone with Cathi Murphey Half, Ph.D., Dear Pandemic’s immunology adviser. Dr. Half is an immunologist who runs a San Antonio-based laboratory that performs compatibility testing for kidney, heart, liver, pancreas, and bone marrow transplant programs. During the pandemic her lab is also supporting clinical work-ups for hospitalized COVID patients.

Here is the key point that she’d like to emphasize: When we proactively stay SMART* and work to reduce our own personal risk of catching and transmitting COVID, we also protect:

(1) Patients waiting for their best shot at life-saving transplants

(2) Unsung heroes on the frontline – laboratory technicians – whose work has become even more critical during the COVID pandemic

Additional insights from Dr. Murphey Half:


Many kidney transplants fall under the “elective surgery” umbrella, and have been postponed in “hotspots” due to fears of health capacity surges. For context, note that some patients have been waiting FIVE YEARS or longer for their shot at a kidney transplant (reference below). A postponement means a longer time on dialysis, and often leads to a continued worsening of health outcomes.

Transplant recipients must receive colonoscopies, mammograms, and/or other screening and diagnostic procedures to be cleared for transplant. These services are also considered “elective,” causing further hurdles for transplant patients and their medical teams to overcome.

Throughout the pandemic transplant patients haven’t been able to have a caregiver at their side for the operation and subsequent hospital stay. (Editorial note: Can you imagine?!)


Laboratory technicians’ work must be done on-site with sophisticated equipment and protocols, creating particular struggles for those who are working parents experiencing major child care disruptions. Technicians also frequently respond to middle-of-the-night emergencies, and navigate serious infection risks handling blood and tissue samples. PPE shortages have negatively impacted labs as well as health care providers. The technicians at Dr. Murphey Half’s lab – like many of their peers nationwide – have worked overtime to bring on tests to support physicians caring for hospitalized COVID patients. For example, her team launched a test identifying dangerous inflammatory markers in seriously ill COVID patients within a 2-week time frame, an effort that typically takes 2-3 months.

Her final reflections included several notable calls to action: (1) We all need to exercise compassion, empathy, and connection to people who are infected and prioritize protecting vulnerable individuals likely to experience poor outcomes. For those who have recovered from a COVID infection and feel comfortable doing so, sharing the experience with co-workers and friends can help reduce worry and fear. (2) This is NOT A POLITICAL VIRUS, it doesn’t care who it infects. Wear your mask, wash your hands, don’t put yourself and others at risk if you don’t have to.

*Nerdy Girl/IMPACT SMART principles:
S Space. Stay six feet apart!
M Mask. Keep it on!
A Air. Outside is key!
R Restricted. Keep your quaranteam SMALL and STABLE!
T Time. Keep it short!

Information on kidney transplant waiting list

Yesterday’s announcement from Gov. Abbott