AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin and Travis County have officially begun work to open an alternate care site for patients with COVID-19.

After a steady and record-breaking surge in cases and hospitalizations, the site is aimed at expanding the capacity for patients to receive treatment. The activation, a doctor says, is a sign of the inevitable: that health care systems in Central Texas will soon be overwhelmed beyond capacity.

 “When we exceed capacity, we will do so not only for COVID patients, but for all individuals needing hospital care in this community. We need this community to take substantial steps now to avoid a catastrophic surge,” said Jason Pickett, alternate health authority for Austin-Travis County.

Friday, the City and Travis County submitted a request to the state to request staffing. Once the facility is properly staffed, the City says, the site will be operable.

Patients will need to be referred to the site by hospitals staff and will likely be transferred from local hospitals based on criteria established in consultation with physicians and hospital staff. 

Once healthcare professionals accept the first patient at the ACS, the facility will have doctors and other medical personnel on-site 24 hours a day.

“We have been sounding the alarm for weeks that our situation was worsening,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority. “Our hospitals and intensive care units are filling up and deaths continue to rise throughout Central Texas. You must take simple actions today to stop this from worsening… The whole region must act now.”

Those actions, Escott says, are the continuation of hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing — including not gathering with people outside of your home.

Last week, Escott explained that the site’s activation was likely imminent, despite the fact that Austinites and Travis County residents have begun getting vaccinated.

Additionally, he recommended that state leaders consider plans to restrict business capacities, possibly even beyond 50%.