Officials working to open alternative care site at Austin Convention Center

Austin-Travis County health officials are working to open up the Alternative Care Site at the Austin Convention Center to help offer more space for COVID-19 patients.

Hospitalizations in Texas set a record high for the 13th consecutive day as state health officials have reported 13,935 patients hospitalized statewide, 14 more than Friday. 

The Alternate Care Site was initially set up in June during a summer surge of the coronavirus but has not yet taken patients, according to a statement from the city of Austin.



"We were close to pulling the trigger to actually open up the doors last summer, but we were able to reverse the increase and the rise," Mayor Steve Adler said. "This time it looks like that’s not going to happen and that we’re actually going to need the space so we have been over the last many months and certainly the last couple weeks getting closer and closer to being able to pull the trigger for the final step being able to open the doors and it’s looking like we’re there now, so we’re moving forward with that which is why I think it’ll actually be able to start taking people within the week."

The Alternative Care Site will be used for patients who do not need high-level or intensive care, according to the city. Patients needing high-level or intensive care will remain at hospitals. Patients will need to be referred to the Alternate Care Site by hospital staff and will likely be transferred based on criteria established in consultation with physicians and hospital staff. 

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"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, deputy medical director of the health authority.

On Friday, the City and the County submitted a request to the State of Texas to request staffing of the facility, and according to the city, the request was approved and the State is coordinating staffing at this time.  

Once healthcare professionals accept the first patient at the ACS, the facility will have doctors and other medical personnel on-site 24 hours a day. According to the city, the facility has: 

  • Meals and beverages 
  • Linen and laundry services 
  • Toileting assistance 
  • Showering and/or bathing assistance 
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 
  • Wi-Fi 
  • Telephone service 
  • Television 
  • Social services 

"We have been sounding the alarm for weeks that our situation was worsening," said Dr. Mark Escott Interim Health Authority. "Our hospitals and intensive care units are filling up and deaths continue to rise throughout Central Texas. You must take simple actions today to stop this from worsening. Stay home if you can. If you must leave home, wear a mask, practice proper hand hygiene, stay six feet apart from others, and do not gather with someone you do not live with. The whole region must act now."

In July, members of the media were allowed to take a tour of the "field hospital" set-up inside the Alternative Care Site. Inside, 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. At the time, officials said staffing would include health care providers hired on contract and volunteers with medical backgrounds.

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As of Saturday, there have been more than 1.9 million virus cases in Texas and 29,691 deaths since the pandemic began. The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Texas has risen from 14,553.7 per day on Dec. 25 to 20,396.8, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and the average positivity increased from 14.18% to 20.88%.