Facilities to isolate nursing home residents who test positive for coronavirus will be set up in Travis, Williamson counties

Dr. Liam Fry speaks about two nursing home isolation facilities that will be coming to the Austin and Travis County areas on March 30 at the city of Austin's Combined Transportation, Emergency, and Communications Center. (Courtesy ATXN)
Dr. Liam Fry speaks about two nursing home isolation facilities that will be coming to the Austin and Travis County areas on March 30 at the city of Austin's Combined Transportation, Emergency, and Communications Center. (Courtesy ATXN)

Dr. Liam Fry speaks about two nursing home isolation facilities that will be coming to the Austin and Travis County areas on March 30 at the city of Austin's Combined Transportation, Emergency, and Communications Center. (Courtesy ATXN)

Late last week, two nursing home residents in Austin tested positive for the coronavirus—the first individuals living in a nursing home to test positive locally. While Dr. Liam Fry, leader of Austin Public Health’s Task Force for Nursing Homes, said the local community has not yet seen a surge in cases that have strained local health resources, health leaders need to be proactive to protect the elderly population at risk of dying from the virus.

With that goal in mind, Austin Public Health will be setting up two isolation centers at licensed nursing home facilities where those who have tested positive for the virus will be able to stay and receive care if they do not need to go to the hospital or if they have already been discharged.

The goal, Fry said, is to separate those who have tested positive from the rest of their peers at the nursing home and prevent anything similar to what happened in Washington, where 35 people died at one nursing home facility.

“We absolutely want and need to avoid that in our community, if at all possible,” Fry said.

The exact locations of the two isolation centers have not been released, but one is at a nursing home in Travis County and the other is located in Williamson County.


I don’t want to mention [the locations] specifically, because we want to give those facilities opportunities to notify their staff and make arrangements prior to being fully operational,” Fry said. “Once it is operational it will be public knowledge. We don’t want something like that to be kept a secret.”

Fry said the facilities will provide a total of 100 beds—60 at one facility and 40 at the other. They will be staffed by special nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians who will be dedicated to helping those groups of people recover from the coronavirus.

The facilities will be run according to the same strict infection control policies set by Texas Health and Human Services for skilled nursing facilities, and additional personal protective equipment will be provided by the city and county.

There have been 200 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Travis County as of March 29 and one death. In Williamson County, 42 cases and one death have been confirmed.

While hospitals in the local area have the capacity to treat patients right now, Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health interim health authority, said modeling from The University of Texas shows that the area could face a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds by summer if social distancing measures are not followed.

“We’re very hopeful by having these facilities up and running before we hit any sort of surge population, we’ll be able to protect our residents better than other communities have perhaps been able to,” Fry said.


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