Austin Public Health Orders Nursing Homes To Screen Visitors And Staff Amid COVID-19 Fears

Mar 11, 2020

Austin Public Health is mandating that nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities in Austin-Travis County secure building access and screen all individuals – including employees, volunteers and visitors – for fevers before allowing them to enter.

“This disease that we're facing, COVID-19, is not an equal opportunity threat,” Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority for APH, said during a press conference announcing the order.

“The people most threatened by this disease is the elderly, particularly those over the age of 60, over the age of 70," he said. "As a result of this, it's necessary to further protect those individuals."

He said patients and staff of these facilities who have unexplained fevers must immediately notify Austin Public Health. 

“These steps are not dissimilar from what we do for outbreaks of flu in these facilities,” Escott said. “But our effort right now is to prevent outbreak, because as we’ve seen in Seattle, it can be devastating if this disease gets into a facility like a nursing home or like an assisted living facility.”

There are about 300 of these facilities in the city and county, and 80,000 people over 70 in the community, according to APH. Escott said additional orders for other types of facilities are expected in the coming days. 

He said APH is not as concerned about young people contracting the disease, since otherwise healthy people under 50 who contract it have a 0.2% risk of death. The risk increases with age to about 20% for people 80 and older. 

The most important part of ensuring success during this public health effort to prevent COVID-19 is for people to stay home when they are sick, he said.

On Friday, two Austin cases of the coronavirus were confirmed by city and health officials.

We’re providing live coronavirus updates in Austin and Central Texas throughout the day. Find them here

This post has been updated.