Restaurant capacity expands to 75% under governor's plan as Austin officials worry about COVID-19 surge
Another part of Phase 3 of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to reopen Texas goes into effect today, which means restaurants can open up to 75% of their full capacity.
The governor's office is staying the course on its reopening plan, even as both new cases and hospitalizations rise locally and across the state.
A portion of Phase 3 was initiated on June 3 when Abbott first announced the executive order. Meanwhile, Mayor Steve Adler and local health officials spoke out this week as new COVID-19 cases surged, showing triple-digit growth, and the city saw an increase in average daily hospitalizations.
The timeline of Phase 3 is as follows:
Effective June 3:
- All businesses currently operating at 25% capacity can expand their occupancy to 50% with certain exceptions.
- Bars and similar establishments may increase their capacity to 50% as long as patrons are seated.
- Amusement parks and carnivals in counties with less than 1,000 confirmed positive cases may open at 50% capacity.
- Restaurants may expand their maximum table size from 6 to 10 persons.
Effective June 12:
- Restaurants may expand their occupancy levels to 75%.
- Counties with 10 or less active COVID-19 cases may expand their occupancy limits to 75%.
Effective June 19:
- Amusement parks and carnivals in counties with more than 1,000 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 may open at 50% capacity.
The order included special standards for outdoor gatherings and celebrations, such as the Fourth of July, relegating those regulations to local officials. It also reminded people to wear face coverings, avoid groups greater than 10 people and avoid nursing homes.
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Halfway through the fifth week of the vaccine rollout in Texas, eligible Austin residents continue to report long waitlists, line cutters and confusion as they try to access shots.
Here are answers to some of your most pressing questions at this stage.
1. Austin Public Health debuted a pre-registration portal for its supply for 12,000 COVID vaccines on Wednesday. Are they any spots left?<p>Probably not. </p><p>APH debuted <a href="https://www.austintexas.gov/aph-vaccine-reg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a pre-registration portal</a> for its remaining doses on Wednesday morning. By 11 a.m., more than 20,000 residents had signed up for appointments, far outnumbering the number of available doses. And the portal was experiencing technical issues because of high demand. </p><p>APH is a safety net provider and focused on distributing its vaccine supply to the area's most vulnerable residents, including those who are uninsured, who live in poverty and who lack access to transportation as well as communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. APH encourages people with private insurance to contact their primary care provider about being vaccinated.</p><p>The Texas Department of State Health Services allocated 12,000 doses to APH as part of this week's allocation. By Tuesday, APH had administered around 4,000 of those doses to individuals in group 1A, which includes frontline healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and first responders, and some in group 1B, which includes people 65 years of age and older and those with a chronic medical condition. </p><p>Until the state distributes more doses to APH, those on the waitlist will have to be patient, local public health officials said.</p>
2. How is APH ensuring that those getting vaccinated are eligible members of the priority groups?<p>APH is relying on residents to determine their own eligibility for the vaccine at this stage and to be truthful in their pursuit of a shot.</p><p>"We can't check a blood sugar (level) on someone to prove that they have diabetes," Dr. Jason Pickett said. </p><p>Local public health officials pleaded with the public to respect the priority groups and not jump ahead in the line.</p><p>"We're asking people to follow the rules and follow the strategy," APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said. </p>
3. Where else can I get vaccinated in Austin?<p>In addition to APH, seven local providers are offering updates or waitlists for future allotments. But generally most facilities that have received vaccines from the state, at this stage, have already administered them or have reserved any remaining doses for existing high-priority patients. </p><ul><li><strong>38th Street Pharmacy</strong>, 711 W. 38th St., Ste. C3<br>This local pharmacy will contact those who sign up for its <a href="https://hipaa.jotform.com/203644738788067" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Covid-19 Vaccine Contact List</a> as its supply is replenished.</li><li><strong>Austin Regional Clinic</strong>, multiple locations<br>This private medical group offers a <a href="https://request.austinregionalclinic.com/?_ga=2.220792984.1261746439.1610377586-113365655.1609947918" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Covid Vaccination Request Form</a> for non-ARC patients in groups 1A and 1B who wish to request a shot.</li><li><strong>Baylor Scott & White Health</strong>, multiple locations<br>Sign up for COVID-19 vaccine updates from BSW Health, one of the three hospital systems operating in the Austin metro, <a href="https://www.bswhealth.com/covid-vaccine#vaccine-form" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</li><li><strong>H-E-B Pharmacy</strong>, multiple locations<br>Twenty-two H-E-B pharmacies in Travis County have received COVID-19 vaccine allotments so far. Although the San Antonio-based grocery store chain is not currently allowing eligible residents to make appointments, it will provide updates on its vaccine supply <a href="https://vaccine.heb.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</li><li><strong>Lamar Plaza Drug Store</strong>, 1509 S. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 550<br>This local pharmacy will contact those who sign up for its <a href="https://martinswellness.com/covid-19-vaccination" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">COVID-19 Vaccine Interest Form</a> with more information as it becomes available.</li><li><strong>Randalls Pharmacy</strong>, multiple locations<br>Residents interested in signing up for COVID vaccine updates from this grocery store chain can sign up for updates <a href="https://www.randalls.com/my-vaccine-communication.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</li><li><strong>Tarrytown Pharmacy</strong>, 2727 Exposition Blvd., Ste. 105<br>This local pharmacy has compiled <a href="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScxJYkk6gXygJXV8jza1EIaBhGDKLqSfzzihrfTgmVCRouo1g/viewform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a communication list</a> so it can alert members when its vaccine supply is refilled. </li></ul>
4. Austin residents are posting on social media about getting vaccinated even though they are not eligible members of priority groups. Is this happening?<p>Yes.</p> <p>Last week, Austin Regional Clinic confirmed that it had administered <a href="https://austonia.com/austin-vaccine-distribution" target="_self">a "handful" of vaccine doses</a> to people who were not members of the priority groups. To prevent this from happening, ARC now requires an appointment. </p> <p>On Tuesday, APH vaccinated some individuals who were not members of the priority groups and, having heard about the distribution event from friends or through social media, showed up. The department vaccinated them to avoid wasting doses and "as a common courtesy," Director Stephanie Hayden said.</p> <p>As a result, APH will no longer administer vaccines to individuals without an appointment. "This is a message for anyone who is going to show up there today anticipating they will get a vaccine." </p> <p>Despite these safeguards, there will likely continue to be individuals who are able to cut the line, so to speak, during the vaccine rollout. </p> <p>"The absolute priority for every vaccine provider is: Don't waste vaccine," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said, adding that there will continue to be small numbers of non-priority individuals who are able to access shots. "I think we have to have some forgiveness for groups that are trying to do the right thing." </p>
5. What are the next steps in the statewide vaccine rollout?<p>Vaccine providers, such as APH, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, rely on allocations from the state.</p> <p>DSHS expects its allocation supply to increase starting next week. Up until now, the state has been required to set aside a certain number of doses for long-term care facilities. With this obligation fulfilled—and more than 7,000 long-term care residents vaccinated at more than 40 area facilities—DSHS anticipates it will have about 121,000 more doses to distribute across the state next week.</p> <p>For those counting, this represents about a 60% increase over the number of vaccines distributed statewide this week. </p> <p>The state has also shifted its vaccine distribution strategy to focus on large-scale hubs, as opposed to smaller facilities, such as private practices and freestanding ERs. APH was the only facility in Travis County to receive an allocation this week, and local public health officials say they are prepared to set up mass distribution events, including drive-thrus, as more vaccine becomes available. </p> <p>Twenty-two H-E-B pharmacies in Travis County have received vaccine allocations so far, although the San Antonio-based grocery chain is no longer accepting appointments. Once the state allocates more doses, however, it could administer as many as 4,000 doses each day, Escott said. </p>
6. Are public health officials concerned about people opting out of getting vaccinated?<p>Yes.</p> <p>"We do have substantial concerns about that," Pickett said, citing misinformation and conspiracy theories that are being spread on social media and contributing to vaccine hesitancy among Austin residents. </p> <p>He referred those with questions about the vaccine to seek out accurate information from sites such as <a href="https://www.austintexas.gov/covid19-vaccines" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">APH's</a> and the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's</a>. </p> <p>"I understand there is a lot of concern about the vaccine," he said. "What I can say is that the negative effects of the virus itself are far worse than the negative effects of vaccine that we've seen. </p>
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