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

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.