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(Roschetzky Photography/Adobe)

Austin is preparing for a surge in deaths, health authorities said Wednesday, and getting ready to open the Austin Convention Center field hospital next week.


Dr. Jason Pickett, Austin-Travis County alternate health authority, said at a press conference that the increase in deaths is expected to follow the pattern of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

"The data that we have currently with regards to deaths shows a recent significant increase in excess deaths, 23% above what is the expected number of deaths for this time of year," Pickett said. "So, with the recent surge in cases, we do expect to see a surge in deaths at the same time."

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott also cited an increase in the expected number of deaths when he spoke on Tuesday, and said he didn't know if these deaths are attributable to COVID or other conditions, such as residents not seeking hospital care for heart attacks.

"It is an alarming number," he said.

"We had about a dozen deaths a week for quite some time related to COVID-19," Escott said. "And then over the last two weeks, we've seen a substantial increase, with 28 the week of June 28 and 52 this week of July 5. Again, this is a very concerning trend."

Mobile morgues

Austin-Travis County is ordering mobile morgues in anticipation of private morgues and crematories hitting capacity.

"In the event they are over-capacity, Travis County and city of Austin are making plans to stand up additional, temporary storage capacity in the interest of protecting public health," a spokesperson for the Austin-Travis County Joint Information System said. "Those plans have been in the works for several months."

Travis County spokesperson Hector Nieto said they are procuring three mobile morgue trucks.

"We're requesting [them] because we want to be ready, not because we're there now," Nieto said.

Nieto said Austin and Travis County have been working with private hospitals and funeral homes to determine how much space they have at their facilities. Some cities in Texas have already reached their morgue capacity.

'A glimmer of hope'

(Austin Public Health)


Dr. Pickett said hospitals are stretched thin with patients, pulling in additional staff and asking for more resources from the state.

But he added that he also sees a "glimmer of hope" in the average number of hospitalizations.

"Where we were on a rapid increase, we've seen that plateau slightly just over the last few days," said Dr. Pickett. "This leveling off is very early for us to tell if this is going to be a trend or if we are going to continue on the upward trend that we have seen for the last couple of weeks."

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