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Austin-Travis County 'may have a need' for an alternate care site amid spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, APH says

Dr. Desmar Walkes said plans are ready to go should an alternate care site be needed.

AUSTIN, Texas — Hospitalizations are continuing to spike in Austin-Travis County and the local health authority said plans are ready should an alternate care site be needed.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin's health authority, said Tuesday that there are some hospitalized COVID-19 patients that require skilled nursing such as high-flow oxygen or physical or occupational therapy. "For the most part," Walkes said that the current skilled nursing facilities have been able to accommodate those patients, but that could change.

"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 and 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," Walkes said.

She did not say when the facility might be operational or where it would be located.

Last week, Walkes said that the timeline to open an alternate care site was as soon as possible, but the priority was getting staff to area hospitals. At the time, she said there was not enough staff to expand ICU capacity in Austin-area hospitals or to open another facility.

The Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard shows that as of Monday, there are currently 589 people hospitalized, 213 people in ICUs and 134 on ventilators.

Over the weekend, the Austin area hit a pandemic low for ICU bed availability, with only one bed available for the 11-county region. As of Monday, there were nine ICU beds available for the region, according to state health data

"We have patients that are on stretchers in hallways instead of in rooms because we don't have enough rooms. We use nontraditional spaces to take care of patients who need ventilators or life support," Walkes said Tuesday, later adding, "We make adjustments when we need to in our hospital settings. But that's not ideal."

Walkes said Tuesday that "almost all" of the people hospitalized are unvaccinated, and "it's running about 85% of those who were admitted to hospitals are not protected by the COVID vaccines that are available."

According to the State's COVID-19 dashboard, there are 327 available ICU beds across Texas as of Monday. The dashboard shows there were 11,791 people in Texas hospitals with COVID-19 as of Monday.

The alternate care site previously set up at the Austin Convention Center discharged its last patient on March 20.

Texas officials have also requested mortuary trailers from the federal government as the State anticipates an increase in deaths due to COVID-19. State officials say these trailers will be stationed in San Antonio and sent around the state as needed.

WATCH: Doctor asks people to leave ERs for emergencies as COVID-19 cases strain hospitals, ICUs

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