AUSTIN, Texas - Only 100 beds are now up, all empty and not all the equipment is hooked up.
A section of the Austin Convention Center has become the Austin-Travis County Alternate Care site: a COVID 19 overflow field hospital. For the first time, Friday, members of the media were allowed inside to see how the site is being prepared.
"We must stay in a position where we can provide a buffer for our hospitals and provide services, if needed, to our neighbors across Texas,” Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said.
The convention center has been set up as a refuge before. Three years ago it was called a Mega-Center for victims of Hurricane Harvey. In other cities, when the COVID-19 outbreak first hit, field hospitals were quickly set like hurricane shelters.
In some places like Dallas, the National Guard was used, but a quick set up wasn't done here because hospitals have so far managed the surge.
"We did see other jurisdictions which did stood up facilities very rapidly early on and end up not using their facilities and those were very large expenditures, we wanted to avoid doing that and wanted to make sure we are ready to go when needed but not pouring medical staff into when we weren't,” said Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett.
Individuals will not be allowed to walk up to the convention center and get admitted. Only patients who need a lower level of care will be transferred in from local hospitals to free up space if the need arises. However, with cases of hospitalizations leveling off, the site may not be used.
"I would love for us to never have to use it for me it’s an insurance policy for the community,” Dr. Jason Fought, the site's Chief Medical Officer.
Beds are separated with curtains. Tents will be used as isolation rooms for those who need extra care. There are also trailers for showers and restrooms. Staffing will include health care providers hired on contract, and volunteers with medical backgrounds.
"We are going to have a respiratory therapist on-site 24/7, a nursing staff ranging from a floor nurse to a charge nurse, to an ICU level nurse that will be available. We'll have 24-hour paramedics,” said Fought.
The site can be expanded to care for up to 1,500 people.
"We don’t need to open it today, we don’t need to staff it to prepare to receive 100 patients on Monday, but it is needed, the infrastructure needs to be there, we need to have that buffer. We realized how quickly where we can get into a situation where our hospitals are doing ok and then transition into one where they are in substantial stress,” said Escott.
The cost to set up and operate this field hospital was not immediately available. The timing for the center may still be right, even without people inside. The medical team is not only worried about what COVID-19 could do to local hospitals, but noted flu season is coming, so instead the field hospital may be needed to help address a surge caused by that bug.
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