Alternate care site for overflow COVID-19 patients now in the works


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s public health leaders are warning that the city “cannot afford any missteps right now” when it comes to the coronavirus, and say the city is starting the process of setting up an alternate care site to prepare if hospitals become too full.

Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said he issued a request for the site, which went through the emergency operations center and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get funding “so we can start the build up process.” Escott said it will take “several weeks” before the site will be ready to take patients.

The site will be able to take as few at 150 patients and units can be added as needed. The city expects to have bed numbers from hospitals by the end of the week.

Those hospitalizations have been a key indicator for the city on when it needs to take extra measures, like initiating another stay home order. Escott says the city is not there yet, but he will recommend a stay-home order if the average number of people hospitalized over seven days reaches more than 70. On Tuesday, there were 67 new admissions, and the current 7-day average is 55.

Since APH’s last briefing, Travis County set a new record for new cases in a day, with 636 on Sunday. During the Coronavirus Task Force White House briefing on Friday, Dr. Deborah Birx included Austin in a list of metro areas she labeled as “concerning,” and she said Austin at the time had the highest positivity rate over the past week in the country.

Escott said earlier this week, Austin’s positivity rate was 22.9% and that although the city doesn’t have a “true number,” it is “substantially higher than the rest of the country.” He says Austin Public Health, Austin Regional Clinic, and CommUnity Care tested 11,000 people last week and are working to get all that data in one place which he hopes will allow the city to provide a community-wide testing number and positivity rate.

The city says it does not have enough testing capacity to test asymptomatic people right now, but that it plans to ramp up testing in July. It also wants to switch to what it calls “pool testing,” which Escott says should allow for increased testing capacity. Essentially, if one person in a “pool” tests negative, the city will assume everyone else is negative.

“We cannot afford the missteps right now, not this weekend,” Escott said. “The consequences will be dire for us. It will mean that we are going to exceed capacity in our hospitals, it means that we’re going to have people die who don’t need to die.”

Travis County and Austin announced Monday they would close parks during the July 4th holiday in an effort to discourage gathering and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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