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Travis County opens Sobering Center for people at high-risk for contracting COVID-19

The Sobering Center, serving Austin and Travis County, will only have 15 beds available.

Tuesday morning, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a change to the function of The Sobering Center. Starting April 1, 15 beds will be available for a select group of people who have not contracted coronavirus.

“If they’ve been screened, and they are not positive, they are not symptomatic, but they are high-risk, such as they are above the age limit or they have an underlying medical condition, they’re being referred to through the nursing hotline to The Sobering Center," Roger Jefferies, the Travis County Executive for Justice and Public Safety, said.

To help others who have nowhere else to go to "stay at home," the City of Austin has partnered with the Crowne Plaza hotel for 292 rooms for people experiencing homelessness.

One concern Commissioner Margaret Gomez brought up was staff safety.

“We don’t want to put, for instance, the staff, put them in the position of front line caretakers," Gomez said.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said by the time coronavirus has passed, the vast majority of us will have acted as a front line caretaker. Doctors say 80% of patients will be taken care of at home and don't need to come to the hospital.


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Eckhardt added that she believes the county may need 10,000 hospital beds by the end of June to handle the influx of coronavirus patients. Dr. David Fleeger, president of Texas Medical Association and a doctor at St. David's South Austin Medical Center, said different models are projecting different numbers of patients. However, Fleeger emphasized the need is not for hospital beds, but for other resources.

“We’re preparing for what we would consider the peak," Fleeger said. "Bed space should be OK. It’s really ICU and ventilators that come the closest to shortage.”

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Fleeger said the peak of patient numbers could arrive within the next six weeks.

“Dallas is already seeing some issues that Austin has not seen yet but, that being given, we anticipate that the curve will start going up in a couple weeks and in two, four, six weeks, we’ll be seeing the majority of the patients that we think we’re going to see," Fleeger said.

To prepare for the peak, Fleeger said hospitals need to start making changes to accommodate more patients now.

“There’s no empty hospitals, there’s always sick people there, so we need that number to be as low as possible for hospitals so that when the COVID patients come, we have the beds available," Fleeger said.

The Sobering Center's bed space will be open until the stay-at-home order by Travis County is lifted.


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