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Austin-Travis County begins work to open alternate care site at Austin Convention Center

The site will be prepared to take COVID-19 patients as soon as staffing is in place.

AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin and Travis County have begun the process to open the alternate care site (ACS) at the Austin Convention Center, as new COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions continue to spike.

In a Saturday press release, Austin-Travis County officials said the site will be prepared to take COVID-19 patients as soon as staffing is in place. It is expected to open by mid-week, however, a City spokesperson said it could take at least seven days to actually begin accepting patients into the facility because they are getting staffing in order and perishables must be restocked.

The facility would take specific patients who need a "lower acuity of care" to help relieve stress on local hospitals, which would still care for patients needing a higher level or intensive care.

The Austin-Travis County ACS was established during the summer during the area's first major surge and has been on standby but has not taken any patients to date. 

"Activating the Alternate Care Site means that we believe that it is inevitable that the healthcare system in Central Texas will exceed capacity and will soon be overwhelmed," said Dr. Jason Pickett, the alternate health authority for Austin-Travis County. "When we exceed capacity, we will do so not only for COVID patients but for all individuals needing hospital care in this community. We need this community to take substantial steps now to avoid a catastrophic surge."

On Friday, the City and County submitted a request to the State of Texas to request staffing for the ACS. Dr. Pickett said the request has been approved by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) for staffing for 100 beds to start, and the State is currently coordinating staffing.

"El Paso at their peak had 60 patients in their Alternate Care Site, so due to the fact that Austin is a larger community, we felt it appropriate to start with the capacity for 100," Dr. Pickett said.

Patients must be referred to the ACS by hospital staff and will likely be transferred from local hospitals based on criteria established in consultation with physicians and hospital staff, according to the press release.

Once the first patient is accepted at the ACS, the facility will have doctors and other medical personnel on-site 24 hours a day. The facility also has meals and beverages, laundry services, personal protective equipment and other necessities.

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