AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Austin Convention Center is open to patients as an alternate care site as hospitals experience a surge of patients with coronavirus.
“As of this morning, it’s open for business,” said Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott at a briefing for Austin City Council on Tuesday.
The facility was first set up over the summer but was not used — until now. Austin’s top doctor says he expects ICU capacity in the region to be overwhelmed in just two days.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to need it,” Escott told Travis County commissioners on Tuesday.
To start, the facility will be used for patients who need hospitalization, but a lower level of care.
“So these may be individuals who need supplemental oxygen, they may need some minor help — minor medication help or IV infusions,” Escott explained to commissioners.
Escott says patients will be referred to the site from hospitals only if they are deemed stable enough to transfer.
Right now, the Texas Division of Emergency Management is providing enough staffing for 25 patients. Escott says the hall can hold up to 250 people and the convention center almost 1,000 patients, if needed.
“Our hope is that we will not need to utilize it to any significant level but it is an option for us and it will create an opportunity to help decompress the hospitals, particularly as the cases and hospitalizations continue to surge,” he said.
While the state helps reinforce staffing and space externally, local doctors are helping manage the surge from inside hospitals.
“I don’t think that this is unexpected,” said Nancy Foster, Travis County Medical Society president.
Foster spoke with KXAN over the weekend, when activation of the alternate care site was announced.
“We’ve had excellent modeling from Dell and our UT resources that have anticipated a second surge, if you will. I think we are there,” Foster said.
This week, she tells KXAN dozens of their doctors are signed up to help hospitals and some start their shifts this week.
“Do you feel like this is now all hands on deck?” asked KXAN’s Tahera Rahman.
“Absolutely,” Dr. Foster said. “We all pick up extra shifts. That’s part and parcel of being a care provider, you do as much as you can.”