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Alternate Care Site Opens In Austin As Area Hospitals Reach Capacity

A tent set up for treating medical emergency situations at the Austin Convention Center, which has been repurposed as a field hospital.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A tent set up for treating medical emergency situations at the Austin Convention Center, which has been repurposed as a field hospital.

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The COVID-19 alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center is now open as the county’s interim health authority warned overwhelming the area's hospital system is “inevitable” at this point.

“Patients will be deferred here directly from hospitals; this is not a site where individuals can show up and receive care for COVID-19,” Dr. Mark Escott told Austin City Council members Tuesday.

Escott said the site is staffed to host 25 patients as soon as today, “with plans to ramp up from there.” He said the site will host patients who are improving, opening up hospital beds for people who need more immediate and intensive care.

The convention center can currently house anywhere from 250 patients to nearly 1,000.

“I want to be very clear: Our hope is that we never see a patient in this site. That will indicate that we as a community have driven down the positivity [rate] enough to decompress our hospitals,” Escott said. “But unfortunately at this stage, our expectation is that we will receive patients.”

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are still climbing in the Austin area, though somewhat less rapidly. Escott said he expects to see the impact of New Year’s gatherings on the data in the coming days.

On Monday, Austin Public Health was given 12,000 doses of the vaccine, the most it has received since the Texas Department of State Health Services began distribution.

Starting Wednesday, residents can sign up online to see if they’re eligible for these doses. Escott said the portal will be similar to the one used for COVID-19 testing. People will be asked a series of questions; if they qualify, they'll be given the option to schedule an appointment.

The focus for APH right now is vaccinating people over 65 and those with limited access to health care, as well the remaining members of the 1A group of frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

“Obviously, there are going to be many more people who sign up for a vaccine than we’ll be able to provide vaccines this week,” Escott said. “But we will be able to provide vaccines in the subsequent weeks if this flow of vaccines continues from the state.”

Escott said Austin Public Health will have more information during its news conference Wednesday about how residents without internet access can see if they qualify.

This story has been updated.

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Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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