Austin (KXAN) — Since March 22, Austin-Travis County has been leasing out a hotel in north Central Austin as a place where people who have COVID-19 (or think there’s a chance they may have it) to isolate themselves from others for two weeks.
Tuesday, KXAN’s Alyssa Goard was allowed to bring her camera inside to tour the building and learn more about what goes on there.
Who can stay at the isolation facility?
People are qualified to stay at the isolation facility:
- people who have had exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 *
- if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but have not been tested
- if they are awaiting COVID-19 test results
- or if they have tested positive for COVID-19
- Public safety employees, health care workers, and critical infrastructure workers
Typically, people stay at the facility for 14 days, but because guests aren’t governed by any control orders, they can decide they would like to end their stay whenever they choose to.
The facility is not for the COVID-19 patients with the most severe complications, but rather those who need a place to wait out the rest of their time where they can avoid infecting others.
Any guests with very serious complications or health issues will be transported to the hospital.
“We are kind of the in-between of home and the hospital,” explained Commander Kieth Noble with Austin-Travis County EMS who helps operate this facility. “So we are trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from isolation, but we’re also trying to prevent people from going to the hospital who might not need it.”
What does it cost to stay there?
To guests? Nothing.
Local governments are footing the bill for this, which means that any person’s entire stay there is covered.
This includes three daily meals (the building has a full-sized kitchen, plus staff) and toiletries, cleaning supplies, and protective equipment. People staying there also have an in-room telephone, WiFi and a TV.
Minor medical care is available from a team on-site (staff says the most common request they get is for Tylenol).
Mental health care is also provided on-site with Integral Care mental health professionals who offer mostly tele-health but who can visit in-person to help patients with very serious mental health issues if need be. Staff at this facility said that guests are called once a day or every other day for a check-up on their mental well-being.
Austin Travis County EMS has a captain working on site as a “Safety Officer” who is responsible for the safety of everyone involved in the incident response there. Additionally, an Austin Police officer is always on staff at the facility to provide security.
Commander Noble explained that “a vast majority” of the guests are people who would not have another place to isolate, either because they have vulnerable family members at home, have lots of other people living in their home, or do not have a permanent home to isolate in.
“We want people to use this facility if they need it, we’re trying to get the word out as testing increases and things open up here in the city and there’s a possibility of increased COVID exposure, we want people to know that this facility is available to them if they can’t safely isolate at home,” Noble said.
He also noted that the isolation facility has seen a “notable increase” in the last week of people coming in or inquiring about the facility, aligning with the increased level of COVID-19 testing going on in Austin-Travis County.
How many people have used the facility?
In the 87 days that the isolation facility has been in service, Austin-Travis County EMS says that 312 people have been admitted and 285 people have been discharged.
The facility has 204 beds and the capacity to have up to 259 beds in the event of a surge.
As of Tuesday morning, the isolation facility was 12% full, housing three public safety employees and 24 members of the general public (two of whom have had to be transferred to the hospital). One patient was pending entry to the facility.
If you want to make arrangements to stay at the isolation facility, Austin Public Health says to call the intake line at (512) 810-7554.
Note: Public information officers have asked press not to share the location because they have seen some people arrive at these locations without going through the proper channels.
How is this facility different from others the city is leasing?
Austin and Travis County are currently leasing six facilities for COVID-19 related housing or isolation purposes.
In addition to the isolation facility for the general public. Austin-Travis County is also leasing a facility in Williamson County where nursing home residents can go to isolate.
The city is also leasing four hotels at ProLodges (Protective Lodges) which are places to provide lodging for people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk of COVID-19 complications, including people with underlying medical conditions and those that are immunosurpressed.