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Austin Health Officials Considering Opening Alternate Care Site As Hospitalizations Peak

Austin's alternate care site closed in March as COVID-19 hospitalizations declined. Health officials are now considering opening one again.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Austin's alternate care site closed in March as COVID-19 hospitalizations declined. Health officials are now considering opening one again.

New COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions have begun to flatten across Austin and Travis County, according to the local health authority.

Dr. Desmar Walkes told a joint session of Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members Tuesday that increased behavior changes, like wearing a mask and social distancing, and a renewed effort to boost vaccination rates are reasons for that slowing.

Despite the change, though, more than 210 patients were being treated in intensive care units and more than 130 were on ventilators in the Austin area as of Tuesday.

The majority of patients being discharged from area hospitals go home. Some, however, require skilled nursing care after they leave, such as high-flow oxygen, physical therapy or occupational therapy.

Walkes said that, for now, the area’s skilled nursing facilities have been able to handle the influx of sick people.

“However, with the number of patients that we have right now in ICUs, we’re anticipating that we may have a need for an alternate care site,” Walkes said. “We have plans ready to go for that, and we’ve made requests for staffing for such a facility to be able to accommodate that need.”

Previously, Austin Public Health has said finding enough health care workers to staff such a site would be a barrier to opening one.

On Tuesday, in-person classes began for students in the Austin Independent School District. The district is requiring anyone who steps inside a school building to wear a mask.

That’s not the case in all Central Texas school districts, though, and Walkes said local health officials will be keeping a close eye on possible outbreaks as more schools reopen in the coming days.

"To curb the spread, we must encourage children and staff at our schools to wear a mask," Walkes said.

Adrienne Sturrup, interim director for Austin Public Health, said vaccinations are the long-term defense against COVID-19. But to get the community out of its current surge, the three keys are: wearing a mask, keeping safe distance and getting tested if you feel sick.

“It’s all about testing these days so I’m glad and happy that the community is responding,” Sturrup said, adding that the local health agency has conducted nearly 3,500 tests in the last week alone.

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at Follow him on Twitter@jerryquijano.

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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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