AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local health leaders say Austin’s new, regional therapeutic infusion center is helping to keep people with COVID-19 from developing more severe symptoms.

The infusion center in southeast Austin is one of 11 across the state. Since opening last week, it’s provided antibody treatments to more than 120 people at high risk of developing severe symptoms with COVID-19.

“This infusion center, by giving our communities the treatment needed that is potentially life saving, is absolutely critical,” said Austin City Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes.

Local leaders said in a press conference Wednesday that antibody therapy is one answer to keeping hospitals from becoming even more overwhelmed than they already are.

“This infusion center plays a critical role in helping the most at-risk people who get COVID-19 to stay healthy and not get symptoms escalating to where they have to go to the hospital or the ICU,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown explained.

Currently, the center is treating about 24 patients a day.

“We’ve started off by taking patients from Austin Public Health testing and CommUnityCare, because these are patients that are more likely to have barriers to resources such as health care and insurance,” said APH Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett.

By next week, however, those running the infusion center hope to increase capacity to about 75 patients a day. Each one is at the center for about 2.5 hours for the treatment and monitoring afterward.

Next week, APH also plans to open a call center so any doctor can phone in to refer high-risk patients.

“The demand is definitely more than what we can give right now,” said Pickett.

The infusion center is getting extra doses of antibody treatments from hospitals that are too overwhelmed with admitted patients to administer the therapy. Eventually, local leaders hope there will be enough capacity to expand infusion therapy in the area.

“We’re looking at ways that we can expand the operation, not only here, but also throughout the region,” Pickett said. “I would prefer not to see all the infusion centers here in the City of Austin. I’d like to see us branching out further into the community and the surrounding counties, but we’re still evaluating all of those options and looking at different sites.”

Pickett said APH is also working to organize teams to go out and administer the antibody treatments to people who can’t make it in to the infusion center. That would include people in nursing homes and those who are bed-bound with COVID-19.