AUSTIN, Texas — As health officials warn that Austin-Travis County is "headed for a dire situation," Austin Public Health (APH) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) are working to limit stress on the local health care system by increasing monoclonal antibody therapy options for COVID-19 patients.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said that while Austin-area hospitals can currently manage the load of all patients, COVID-19 or otherwise, seeking medical care, there is concern about a growing threat of a "rapid and unsustainable increase" in hospitalizations in the coming weeks.
To limit the impact of COVID-19 in the area, the TDEM is providing a site for a mobile infusion center for monoclonal antibody therapy, as well as staffing for the center.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown said the center – a modified 18-wheeler trailer – arrived in southeast Travis County on Monday. It is officially open and running as of Wednesday, Jan. 6.
"This is something that when people in a high-risk category test positive for COVID, they can get an infusion, which in many people will reduce the severity of their symptoms," Brown said.
Dr. Escott said local hospital systems have already been providing this therapy at their facilities, largely at infusion centers, but having this additional external center will help alleviate stress on those already busy hospitals.
"The challenge we have is, as we've been discussing, the hospitals are extremely busy right now and we continue to try to stress the ability to do things like providing the prevention therapy. That's why we've been working with the Division of Emergency Management to help us provide this external facility that we can direct patients to who [are] qualified," Dr. Escott said.
Qualified individuals include those over the age of 65, as well as younger individuals who have significant underlying health conditions. Dr. Escott said there are some specific criteria and screening processes to undergo this therapy, and APH is working on an automated screening process for those who test positive through APH testing to alert them that they may be a candidate.
"We're asking our physician community to refer folks to this center once it's operational so that we can get folks through this center and hopefully prevent severe disease and death," Dr. Escott said. "This therapy has been shown to be successful at reducing the risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19, so we're hopeful that it will help contribute to decreasing the stress on our health care system."
Dr. Escott also said that APH is in the process of building strike teams in partnership with Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) and local hospitals to provide mobile units that can go out to nursing homes and provide monoclonal antibody therapy to those in need.
In addition to these efforts, Brown said that Austin-Travis County has a team working to ensure the equitable rapid mass distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines to the public in the coming months. Local officials have also issued temporary restrictions on bars and restaurants to try to limit high-risk behaviors during the New Year's holiday.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO READING: