First patients transported to Austin field hospital as area inches toward ICU capacity

Coronavirus Hospitalizations
Part of the alternate care site set up at the Austin Convention Center in case hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. (KXAN photo/Alex Caprariello)

Part of the alternate care site set up at the Austin Convention Center in case hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. (KXAN photo/Alex Caprariello)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) said three patients are now being treated at the alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center. These are the first patients reported being cared for at the center, which was opened for the first time during the pandemic on Tuesday.

As COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to surge in Texas and in the Austin area, health leaders have been taking actions such as the opening of the alternate care site in hopes of avoiding the region’s ICU capacity being overwhelmed.

Austin’s major hospital systems have told Austin Public Health for months there are 200 spare ICU beds available for COVID-19 patients. Health leaders have been watching as the number of patients with COVID-19 in ICUs in the five-county Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) creeps closer to 200.

APH has previously told KXAN reaching 200 COVID-19 ICU admissions in the Austin MSA would mean “the 200 beds that the hospitals have indicated they have to spare for COVID-19 patients will be filled up.”

On Tuesday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told city and county leaders he expected Austin-area ICUs to reach capacity Thursday, citing projections from the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 modeling consortium. A spokesperson for UT’s College of Natural Sciences said the dashboard has since been updated Thursday at noon.

The updated projections from UT are only slightly less grim, anticipating Austin will reach 200 COVID-19 ICU admissions by Jan. 21.

Projections for COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit admissions in the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area from the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling consortium. Screenshot from noon January 14, 2020.

ICU admission numbers for the Austin area are still higher than they have been at any other point during the pandemic. On Wednesday, APH reported 185 COVID-19 patients in Austin MSA ICU beds. Also Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there were 38 ICU beds available for the entirety of Trauma Service Area O which contains 2.3 million people in the Austin area.

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