Austin Convention Center opens as field hospital as COVID-19 hospitalizations reach new high

Photo of the Austin Convention Center
The Austin Convention Center began accepting patients as a field hospital Jan. 12. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Austin Convention Center began accepting patients as a field hospital Jan. 12. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin Public Health announced Jan. 12 that the Austin Convention Center has pened its doors to overflow patients from local hospitals. Dubbed the Austin-Travis County Alternate Care Site, the field hospital will accept lower-acuity patients referred by overwhelmed medical facilities to "alleviate the burden of caring for COVID-19 patients," according to a news release.

“Opening the facility is a signal to the community that we have a long way to go in our fight against COVID-19," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin and Travis County, in the release.

Escott announced Jan. 6 that preparations were underway to activate the Alternate Care Site due to a sharp rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions related to COVID-19. A week later, at a Jan. 12 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, Escott announced an all-time for coronavirus-related hospital admissions: 601 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Jan. 11.

"I’ve been a physician for a long time now. I’ve never seen anything like this before," Escott said at the meeting. He urged several callers from the public to trust the scientific community's support of masking and social distancing in an effort to blunt the surge of hospitalizations.

Escott also said the number of COVID-19 patients in local intensive care units had reached 190. By Jan. 14, that number is expected to reach 200—the threshold at which ICUs are likely to surpass capacity and trigger increased use of the Alternate Care Site—based on projections by the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. As of Jan. 12, the 493 ICU beds staffed by Austin-area hospital systems Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare were 91% occupied, according to communications from the systems.

The Alternate Care Site will serve lower-acuity patients who need a "lower intensity of care" for the time being. Walk-ins will not be admitted, and hospitals must refer patients to the facility.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


Photoo of Travis County sign
Austin City Council, Travis County Commissioners Court will hold rare joint session to address 'dire' COVID-19 status

County Judge Andy Brown called the meeting "an opportunity to coordinate responses."

Photo of a wine shop
Salt & Time expands with natural wine shop and other East Austin business news

Read about six businesses that have opened, closed or celebrated anniversaries on the East Side.

Voters line up during the Dec. 15 runoff election. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legality of ranked-choice voting prompts disagreement between supporters, Austin city attorneys

If a Jan. 11 petition is validated, Austin voters could decide whether to support the implementation a ranked-choice voting system. But is it unconstitutional?

A group of Austin-area school districts is advocating for early distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for school staff members. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Austin-area school districts advocate for teachers to receive COVID-19 vaccines

Educators in the designated population for early distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 32 states. Texas was not one of them, according to a Jan. 14 letter signed by 17 Central Texas school districts.

H-E-B is preparing to accept coronavirus vaccine appointments through an online portal. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B launches vaccine portal; Whipped Bakery opens in Leander and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

Dr. Anthony Fauci gave remarks while accepting the Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership from Dell Medical School. (Screenshot via The University of Texas)
Dr. Anthony Fauci praises UT researcher’s role in vaccine development

Dr. Anthony Fauci's remarks came while accepting the Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership from Dell Medical School.

Photo of Judge Andy Brown at a press conference
Travis County health leaders say Regional COVID-19 Therapeutic Infusion Center will help unburden hospitals

In its first week, the center offered 120 coronavirus patients an antiviral antibody treatment.

PHoto of a vaccine being administered
Austin Public Health discusses vaccination priorities, registration protocol as regional hub

Local health leaders discouraged people from walking up to vaccine sites without an appointment.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler will still reach his term limit in 2022 if voters approve changes to the election cycle. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Potential strong-mayor system in Austin would be 'weakest of any big city in the country,' supporters say

Exactly what kind of a strong-mayor system would Austin have if it was approved by voters? Among the weakest in the country, supporters said.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar shared a new revenue estimate for the 2022-23 biennium Jan. 11. (Courtesy Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts)
Comptroller projects drop in state revenue, potential for economic uptick for next biennium

Despite the slight reduction in expected revenue for the state's 2022-23 budget, recovery could be on the horizon.