WACO, TX — The spread of COVID-19 shows no signs of letting up in Central Texas, and that has lots of people thinking about where to put people with coronavirus or where to put other sick people who don't have the virus.
As the spread of COVID-19 continues, some communities have begun putting up temporary hospitals, like in the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas. But in Central Texas, we have some options.
Discussions on alternative plans go on every hour of every day at Waco's Emergency Operations Center. That has become the nerve center of the COVID-19 crisis for McLennan County, involving representatives from numerous governments.
Across Waco Drive, leaders of the public health district monitor the virus and watch for signs of progress in the fight against it. So far, they say we haven't peaked in the number of cases and continue making plans in case we do.
“The Emergency Operation Center is working on that very question of alternative care sites. Our hospitals are involved. They have their own unique plans, but they're also working with us as a community if we need to identify separate locations," said Kelly Craine with Waco-McLennan Public Health District.
Top of the list? Waco's old Baptist Hillcrest site. It served the city well for generations. Today, it sits mostly vacant but is apparently very usable. You can see lights on in the building, and around back the building's boiler still works.
It seems it wouldn't take much to re-open that building. But what about rural areas?
In Marlin there's been talk about re-opening the old VA medical center. But the complex has sat vacant for years. It now has mice and squirrels running up and down the building along with broken windows.
County Judge Jay Elliott says the computer that runs the HVAC system was stolen and the building has asbestos and black mold. He estimates renovation costs to run at least $5 million.
Like most rural counties, Falls County has limited ambulance service even in good times.
Still, even though the old VA building looks rough, Marlin Councilman Scottie Henderson says it's worth a look.
“A lot of buildings look rough, but you can renovate anything and you can't put a price, on life," he said.
Which is why back in Waco, all stakeholders take part in the discussions of what to do next.
“Our Emergency Operation Center, our hospitals, the public health district, and even our elected officials are all involved in the potential what is plan A, plan B plan C and so forth,” said Craine.
Right now, the hospitals aren't saying much about their plans, but we're told by government leaders that they're working with them to make the right decisions when the time comes.