AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-area leaders may be optimistic that recent coronavirus numbers show social distancing and mask guidelines in the city are working, but they're still preparing for the worst-case scenario in terms of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The field hospital is set up with 100 beds and the potential to add 1,400 more if needed, but so far it is not open and not staffed.
"It is my hope that we don't ever have to put a patient here," said Dr. Jason Pickett, alternate health authority for Austin-Travis County.
The purpose of the field hospital is to take in patients that need to be hospitalized but are not experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms if and when local health facilities say they cannot keep up with the demand.
"This facility stands ready for whenever the hospitals call and say it's needed," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County.
The field hospital will serve as a regional resource to help hospitals in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop or Caldwell counties.
The cost and how it's being paid for was not shared on Friday, but much of the cost is dependent on how the convention center is utilized.
"It also depends somewhat on our staffing.What we have modeled certain staffing ratios with a number of physicians, a number of nurses, paramedics and technicians and respiratory therapists," Dr. Pickett said. "There is some flexibility in there."
Since Austin City Council passed an ordinance which allows for a fine to be issued in order to enforce safety guidelines such as face masks, Austin's top health authority said it appears new cases are on a "downward trend."
KVUE got a tour of the field hospital on July 24.
PHOTOS: Austin Convention Center field hospital
Inside, nurse stations are made of folding tables. Some tables are stacked with personal protective equipment in case medical professionals end up working there. Beds are surrounded by makeshift cloth walls.
Doctors for Austin-Travis County said the level of care won't be quite the same as a hospital, but that the quality will remain the same.
Pickett said the alternate care site will remain operational as along as area hospitals are in their surge plans.
In late June, Sarah Eckhardt, special assistant to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, told KVUE that the Austin Convention Center is being prepped to become a field hospital in the event that Austin-Travis County hospitals reach capacity. Around that time, Austin and Travis County were seeing a surge in hospitalizations and cases.
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