Austin Public Health Is Setting Up Two Facilities To House Nursing Home Residents With COVID-19

Mar 30, 2020

Austin Public Health announced Monday that its new nursing home task force is setting up sites to house nursing home residents who test positive for COVID-19. The city says these isolation facilities will give COVID-19 patients who don’t need hospitalization a safe place to recover while staying away from other nursing home residents and staff.

Dr. Liam Fry, who leads the nursing home task force, said the goal is to prevent outbreaks in nursing homes that other areas, like Washington state, have experienced.

“We’re very hopeful that by having these facilities up and running before we hit any sort of surge population that we will be able to really protect our residents better than other communities have perhaps been able to,” Fry said during a news conference.

There will be one facility in Travis County and one in Williamson County, Fry said, though the exact locations will be made public at a later date. In total, they will have 100 beds.

APH recently created the task force to focus on vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Older adults and people with underlying conditions are thought to be more susceptible to developing complications from COVID-19. 

Two nursing home residents tested positive for the disease late last week, according to the city, and officials are investigating how the individuals, who are hospitalized, were exposed.

While the number of affected nursing home patients may be low now, Fry said she doesn’t expect it to stay that way.

“My hope is that [the isolation facilities] stay nice and empty, but what I expect to happen is that within one to two or even three weeks, we will see them with significant numbers of patients based on mathematical models that we have seen come out of UT Dell and UT Austin,” Fry said.

Data on COVID-19 cases in the community show that nearly half the people testing positive for COVID-19 are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The city says the virus causes mild illness for most people, but “poses a significant danger to vulnerable populations” like older people. 

“For people who are young and healthy, the chief concern is the risk that they will spread the virus to others,” the city said in a press release. “In Austin-Travis County, the number of people 65 and over is estimated to be 132,000 – about 10% of the population.”

During the news conference, Fry stressed the importance of maintaining physical distance from others during this time.

“We do have our nursing home task force, but what we’re really asking from the public is that you continue to isolate yourself and stay safe as much for yourself but as for our frail geriatric patients in our community,” Fry said.

The city mandated on March 11 that nursing homes and assisted living and long-term care facilities in Austin-Travis County secure building access and screen people for fevers before they enter. 

Then on March 19, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order banning people from visiting nursing homes and long-term care facilities unless they are providing care.

This post has been updated.

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at mcharpentier@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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