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Travis County leaders working to identify emergency medical sites in new 'Surge Plan'

Austin-area officials are developing a plan in case local hospitals hit capacity due to COVID-19.

AUSTIN, Texas — Officials in Austin and Travis County announced Wednesday that they are developing a network of emergency backup facilities in case medical facilities in the area should see an overwhelming surge in COVID-19 cases.

This comes after University of Texas models indicate a likely surge as numbers continue to rise across the area. Thus, the health authority plans to set up Alternative Care Sites (ACS) to handle high demands.

The so-called "Surge Plan" has been created to address additional patient needs in the case that coronavirus infections result in putting the hospital system overcapacity.

“We hope that this Surge Plan is not necessary, but we are preparing for the worst,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority. “We must continue to stay home and practice physical distancing. The future of our healthcare system is up to our daily individual behavior, and it is going to take all of us to fight this virus.”

According to the plan, if a hospital runs out of bed space, patients would then be transferred to a Type II ACS and receive a range of hospital-level care in buildings that were previously used for patient care, such as former clinics or medical facilities. If a Type II ACS were to reach capacity, patients would then go to a Type I facility. Those are similar to what you would see in a combat surgical hospital or large ward.

Currently, local officials are working to identify specific sites for both of these facility types in the area.

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City leaders said that the current hospital bed count for Austin-Travis County is about 4,300 on a typical day. This number will continue to change depending on additional capacity coming online. As of noon on April 8, hospitals are operating at about 50% capacity.

Isolation Facilities, which are locations that are being used to house patients who do not need medical care and do not have a place to be isolated from the public, and Protective Lodging Facilities (ProLodges), which are protective lodges for vulnerable communities, have also been established.

Austin Public Health has been providing regular updates to more than 4,000 physicians through the Travis County Medical Society. Daily conference calls with hospital networks are also taking place, where providers can detail current cases, system statuses and review current and planned measures.

A dedicated section for health care providers has been provided on the City of Austin's COVID-19 page. It includes Surge Plans for the area, information about the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center and the various task forces to support medical and social service community needs. Providers can also access guidance on coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment. 

Austin Public Health, the City of Austin and Travis County say they are prepared to maintain emergency operations for many months to make sure the community stays safe and educated during the pandemic.

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