Austin prepares for possible hospital overflow, but won’t show the numbers

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin Public Health tells KXAN it is finalizing plans for a temporary hospital that would take up to 1,500 people, bringing them in 100 at a time.

But as COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Texas pass 3,000 for the first time, neither Austin city government nor local hospitals have been willing to give a hyperlocal picture regarding the number of hospitalizations.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said this week he was concerned about what will happen to Austin’s hospital capacity in the next few weeks.

“We can’t wait until hospital beds are full,” Escott said. “That necessitates changes from all of us in the community.”

Here are the statistics that are known right now.

Austin Public Health shares the daily number of hospitalizations on its COVID-19 dashboard. The number is hospitalizations in five counties: Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties.

While the number of hospitalizations can provide a real-time idea of how many people are very sick with the virus at that time, Austin doesn’t provide other information, like the number of beds available.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that 28% of beds in Austin-area hospitals were available. The Austin-area includes 11 counties.

MORE: Gov. Abbott says ‘abundant supply of beds available’ in latest COVID-19 update

Meanwhile, rumors are spreading on social media.

Dr. Christine Mann, a congressional candidate for Texas District 31, shared what she claimed was an internal message to Del Seton staff, saying the more than 240-bed hospital was full, and more space was being created.

Her post was shared more than 300 times.

A spokesperson with Ascension, the parent company of Dell Seton Medical Center, said the hospital is not at capacity, and claimed to not know where the message came from.

When asked how she knew the message was legitimate, Mann said, “I’ve seen more that one credible source independently post about it. I wish I could tell you more but people are concerned about outing employees.”

KXAN’s Investigative team has been asking for the capacity numbers for our major area hospitals, but Austin Public Health and these hospitals can’t decide which authority should be providing them.

We asked for the capacity breakdown of Ascension Seton, St. David’s and Baylor Scott & White hospitals.

A spokesperson for the three healthcare systems told KXAN, “We will continue to refer local media outlets to Austin Public Health in response to inquiries on this topic.”

Hospitals are required to report their capacity numbers to Austin Public Health each day. KXAN has made a public information request for this information.

But the city said it was on the hospitals to provide the numbers.

“While we understand your urgency in getting the numbers we do not speak on behalf of area hospitals, and therefore can not provide the requested capacity information at this time,” said a spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that “anything the City receives regarding hospital beds/capacity comes directly from the hospital and we do not verify anything they provide.”

With no reconciliation between how the numbers will be shared to the public, we will keep following with the city and these hospitals.

For perspective, the city of Dallas provides a daily update showing the percentage available of the total number of hospital and ICU beds and ventilators.

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