As COVID-19 cases surge, here’s why Austin may not open a field hospital again

Coronavirus Hospitalizations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a joint Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning, local health authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said there are just two ICU beds available in the 11-county region Austin is in.

Those numbers fluctuate due to a variety of factors like staffing, deaths, transfers and discharges.

In January, when Austin saw its previous spike of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the city opened up a field hospital at the Convention Center.

So why don’t they do that now? Walkes addressed that in the meeting Tuesday.

“We could open another facility but would we be able to staff it?” Walkes responded to the question from the city council. “At this point, we want to set that resource (staff) in place where it’s best used and that would be in our hospitals.”

Walkes painted a grim picture of what hospitals look like right now, describing the bottleneck of patients waiting for care, which she says is due to staffing constraints.

“This is a phenomenon that’s come about because we’ve had people working on a response to a pandemic for 19 months now,” Walkes said. “Some people are retired and some people are moving on to different careers.”

We’ve previously heard similar concerns from medical professionals in Austin and from the Texas Nurses Association.

Some help could be coming in the form of out-of-state workers, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday, but it’s not clear when or how many of those workers would be coming to Austin.

It’s also not clear if nurses from other parts of the nation would be willing or able to assist Texas with its fight against COVID-19.

“This is not just happening here, it’s happening all over the country,” Walkes said.

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