How Austin plans to help hurricane evacuees while slowing the spread of COVID-19

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A car with evacuees arrives at COTA Aug. 26, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

A car with evacuees arrives at COTA Aug. 26, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas is now juggling two life-threatening events: a catastrophic hurricane and a pandemic that’s taken the lives of more than 12,000 Texans.

Numerous concerned viewers reached out to KXAN Wednesday asking how the city of Austin plans to juggle the surge of Hurricane Laura evacuees, and at the same time stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Is the city expecting a surge of cases with evacuees coming to our area?” one person asked KXAN in an email.

Dr. Mark Escott with Austin Public Health addressed the issue in a Wednesday morning press conference.

“We have Texans that are in need,” said Escott. “I’m much more concerned with backyard barbecues and sorority gatherings than evacuees.”

He said evacuees who test positive will be housed in the city’s isolation facility, along with those who have not tested positive but are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden and Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Juan Ortiz went into more detail Wednesday night about the process in place to the keep the community and evacuees safe.

“Health and safety are number one,” said Hayden. “We are going to ensure our guests that come to town have their needs met.”

They said all evacuees from the Gulf coast showing up to the reception location at Circuit of the Americas have had their temperatures checked, and those who boarded buses in Galveston had their temperatures checked before they got on the bus.

At this point, Ortiz said no evacuees have been sent to the isolation center due to COVID-19 concerns.

As the city works to open the Austin Convention Center as a hurricane shelter, it is following all pandemic guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Emergency Management Agency which include social distancing protocols.

Due to the pandemic, the city will not be able to house as many evacuees as it would under normal circumstances. Ortiz said they can safely make space for 135 people. The city has already provided 1,078 hotels rooms to evacuees for about 3,000 total guests.

In addition to the isolation facility, the city has set up a medical shelter to handle all medical concerns evacuees are facing.

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