For two weeks in January, Donna Snyder had one focus: finding a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. The 69-year-old, who lives near Lake Travis, scoured newspaper pages, watched the news and tuned in to city press conferences. She signed up for waitlists in Austin, Fredericksburg and Waco, as well as in Collin and Williamson counties.
"It became my full-time job," she told Austonia.
On Jan. 22, Snyder received an email from Family Hospital Systems, a provider in Williamson County, alerting her that appointments were available. "I signed up that day," she said. Within 90 minutes, she had received her first shot. Her second appointment is scheduled for this week.
Although Snyder was "totally impressed" with the FHS system, she remains frustrated with Austin Public Health. "I am utterly angry and a thousand times disappointed at how poor the Austin process is," she said. "As far as Austin goes, I still need a vaccine."
Nearly three months into the vaccine rollout, Austinites continue to face long waitlists mired by technical glitches and report concerns about scheduling their second dose appointments. The fundamental problem is inadequate supply: with this week's allocation, Travis County will have received 233,515 initial doses, or enough to vaccinate 47% of residents who are currently eligible. (Nearly half of Travis County residents 16 and older fall into groups 1A and 1B, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data.) But Snyder and many other residents say that poor communication is making a stressful process worse.
"I would like an explanation for why the city of Austin, with all of the extraordinarily brilliant tech people in this town … why they screwed it up so bad," she said.
A decentralized process
DSHS established a number of vaccine hubs—including Austin Public Health—in mid-January, shifting its distribution strategy to focus on these sites in an effort to simplify the sign-up process and funnel doses to those providers capable of vaccinating 100,000 people or more. Shortly after, APH debuted its vaccine waitlist, through which it schedules appointments. Since Jan. 11, APH has received 12,000 doses weekly.
More than 306,000 people have registered through APH, with more than 229,000 meeting the current eligibility criteria. Of those, approximately 194,000—or 85%—are still waiting for an appointment. The department does not open up appointment slots until it receives doses from the state in an attempt to avoid cancellations. but this leads to limits the notice APH can provide and often leads to a stressful rush, users told Austonia.
"The vaccine supply is the rate-limiting step in getting everybody vaccinated and getting people protected," Austin-Travis County Deputy Medical Director Dr. Jason Pickett said during a Friday press conference.
But users also report problems using the waitlist. City staff are continuously working on improvements, including registering people who showed up in the early days of the rollout without an appointment and require a second dose and sifting through users who created multiple accounts with different email addresses, APH leadership said at the same event. "We are seeing things run so much better," Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard added.
Having tech problems while pre-registering for the #COVID19 vaccination at https://t.co/uNEZHhMj3c? As our team works to resolve issues, try these tips:
💻 Add .APH to the end of your email to log in
📧 Check your spam
⏰ Try again later
📌 FAQs: https://t.co/dIHOFmAbpG pic.twitter.com/zk5DSjvfaF
— Austin Public Health (@AusPublicHealth) January 28, 2021
The department also established a new queuing system last week: when first dose appointments are available for scheduling, registrants will be added to a queue and receive a place in line with an estimated wait time until they are at the front of the line; at that point, they will have 10 minutes to make an appointment.
Some Austinites have compared APH's waitlist to Williamson County's centralized model, which opened on Feb. 8 and currently has around 190,000 registrants. Public Affairs Manager Connie Odom said the county developed the centralized model so that residents didn't have to register on multiple lists. The central list allows users to update their information and remove themselves if they make an appointment elsewhere. "I think that puts people's minds at ease," she said.
APH does not have such a centralized system. "Since the vaccine distribution and allocation process is very decentralized, it is incredibly difficult to make a single, centralized waitlist that encompasses the availability of hundreds of providers, all of which have different processes for registration," a spokesperson wrote in an email to Austonia.
DSHS has allocated more vaccines to more providers in Travis County than in Williamson County, reflecting differences in population. Although the centralized waitlist is a welcome improvement to some, it is not a panacea.
Hank Ewert, 69, lives in the Brentwood neighborhood and secured a vaccine appointment last week through the Williamson County waitlist. When he arrived at the scheduled time, he and the others in line with him were told their appointments had been rescheduled due to shipping delays caused by the winter storm. "You can't fault them for canceling the vaccinations if there's no vaccine," he said. "But I think they should have texted everyone."
Ewert is worried that the delay may mean it's another month before he is able to get his first shot. He and his wife are now looking for an appointment elsewhere. "I would not mind having two appointments set up at one time," he said. "I know it's going to improve as more and more vaccine gets distributed, but right now the whole availability system seems so fragile that it seems best to try everything."
The second dose shuffle
Another common complaint from eligible Austinites is the waiting game between their first and second shots.
Genevieve McKinster, 81, lives in a senior community in North Austin and received her first shot through APH on Jan. 27. There was a glitch—when she arrived for her 11 a.m. appointment; she was told her appointment wasn't in the system—but luckily she had printed out her appointment details and brought it with her. "I cried when I got my first shot," she said. "I wanted it so bad."
Now McKinster is back where she started, anxiously awaiting a confirmation email for her second appointment. She said she probably spends two to three hours a day checking her inbox and spam folder for an update. "I just don't trust them to email me," she said.
Tilak Khetrapals, 81, feels the same way. The South Austin resident received his first shot on Jan. 20 from APH's Delco Activity Center vaccine site. Nearly six weeks later, he's still waiting to hear about his second dose. "They're not communicating," he said. "That is the problem."
Like many providers, APH is reaching out to patients directly to schedule second dose appointments. Although Pfizer and Moderna recommend three and four weeks between doses, respectively, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the second shot may be administered up to six weeks later.
Although APH generally does not allow for walk-ups, people who received their first dose through the department and have not received information about their second dose within the 42-day period may show up at any APH vaccine site, present their vaccine card and receive a second dose.
Deirdre Strand, 65, lives in South Austin and registered for a vaccine through APH, Austin Regional Clinic and Williamson County, where she ultimately was able to secure an appointment on Feb. 3. "It was an absolutely easy, breezy, very coordinated procedure," she said.
Although Strand has not yet heard about her second shot, she has stopped looking for alternative sites. "I'm not going to spend my entire day waiting to sign up for things and put myself on another waiting list when I truly have been blessed to get my first shot," she said. But she also has a backup plan. If she doesn't hear back from Williamson County about her second shot, she plans to show up at the site where she received her first dose this week. "All I can think of is they must be able to give me my second shot that day," she said.
- Where in Austin COVID-19 vaccines are being sent this week ... ›
- Everything we know about Austin's COVID vaccine rollout - austonia ›
- Vaccine frenzy: Surging waitlists, concert ticket-style protocols ... ›
- Austin healthcare offering COVID-19 vaccine waitlists - austonia ›
- Where in Austin COVID-19 vaccines are being sent this week - austonia ›
- Where in Austin COVID-19 vaccines are being sent this week - austonia ›
- How to make your second COVID vaccine appointment in Austin - austonia ›
- Where in Austin COVID-19 vaccines are being sent this week - austonia ›
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges—second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter—in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose final moments were recorded by onlookers, sparking a global protest movement over police violence and racial injustice. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for 10 hours over two days after an intense, three-week trial before reaching a verdict Tuesday afternoon, four days shy of the first anniversary of the Austin police killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed, 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man whose name became a rallying cry—along with Floyd's—for Austin protestors, who marched en masse last summer, prompting some police reforms.
Austin Police Department Officer Christopher Taylor was charged with first-degree murder—an unprecedented charge in Travis County—in the case of Ramos' death on March 10. But Warren Burkley, community outreach director for the Austin Justice Coalition, was measured in his response to the Chauvin verdict. "It's highly visible accountability, so it will give people hope in the system," he told Austonia. "But it's just one innocent life taken. And even in this city, this happens regularly, and it doesn't make national news."
Local elected officials, community leaders and residents also responded to the news as APD officers spent their second day on tactical alert, prepared to respond to any protests or demonstrations, and City Council heard recommendations from a task force on how to reimagine public safety.
Chauvin guilty on three charges!!!!
— Chas Moore (@iGiveYouMoore) April 20, 2021
Full justice would mean that George Floyd was still with us. But today's guilty verdict represents a historic step toward justice and for his family. So important now for the Senate to approve the House George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.https://t.co/9zUOgZYg4L
— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) April 20, 2021
For the first time we saw accountability in the courts for the murder of an innocent Black person.
Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on camera.
This prosecution is historic. People are feeling temporary relief. This is more than Justice, this is #AccountabilityforGeorgeFloyd. https://t.co/HlBqW7sScx
— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (@EddieforTexas) April 20, 2021
Many of us have been afraid for days that Derek Chauvin would be found not guilty, despite what the video so clearly showed in broad daylight. The guilty verdict today provides important accountability, but it does not provide real justice. (1/5) ⬇️
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder led to national protests and calls for the enactment of policing and social justice reforms, including here in Austin. We have made a commitment here to holding police officers accountable and to implementing social justice and policing reforms.
— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@MayorAdler) April 20, 2021
Derek Chauvin's conviction is only one step towards providing healing/justice for George Floyd's family + for our nation as a whole. It's up to us to honor Mr. Floyd + the many others lost to police violence by transforming public safety and making our communities safe for all. https://t.co/RVgQmcAf6I pic.twitter.com/hCHLibYjoy
— Council Member Alison Alter (@ALTERforATX) April 20, 2021
No person should be above the law. If you transgress the law you should be held accountability.
Derek Chauvin- GUILTY
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder heightened the long-overdue national conversation on systemic racism. Derek Chauvin has been found guilty, but this is just one step on a long road towards racial equity. We must enact significant systemic changes in order to achieve justice.
— Every Texan (@EveryTxn) April 20, 2021
- How to keep on supporting Austin's Black-owned restaurants ... ›
- Downtown Austin boards up in anticipation of protests, again ... ›
- List of proposed changes to Austin Police Department after protests ... ›
- Austin searches for new police chief amid reform process - austonia ›
- Mural on I-35 memorializes police brutality victims - austonia ›
Californians love Texas, and Austin—with its liberal politics, relatively affordable housing and job opportunities—is particularly adored. In fact, the Lone Star State was the main recipient of departing Californians in 2019, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.
But other states, including Florida, are seeing increased interest. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has made a name for himself on Twitter recruiting techies and hyping up his city, which has a lot in common with Austin—with the added benefit of a beach and sans the "Don't California my Texas" attitude.
California expats and industry experts say Austin remains the bigger draw for Californians, especially those in the tech sector, but warn that this advantage could shift to Miami if the city doesn't address the policy challenges that prompted the migration in the first place: housing affordability.
"If Austin doesn't accommodate this influx, I think all the talent will come to Miami," said Peter Yared, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Miami from San Francisco in September. "I think Miami's going to be the one that sucks it all up."
Both Texas and Florida promise business-friendly state tax policies, and their governors tout the relocations of companies such as Tesla and Oracle from California. But Darien Shanske, a law professor at the University of California Davis whose specialties include taxation, said this is a red herring because corporate taxes are based on where sales occur rather than headquarter locations.
This is not to say other state policies are irrelevant. "The area in which California regulatory policy has been, in my opinion, not a complete failure but problematic … is housing policy," Shanske said. Austin and Miami can offer "not cheap, just cheaper" housing than what is available in Silicon Valley. Plus, both cities are developing a critical mass of talent, which further draws Californians in. "If you're a software engineer, you want to live near other software engineers," he added.
But not every Californian is motivated to move. "San Francisco is a fantastic place to live if you can afford it," said Brandy Aven, a professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. As a result, it's more common for what she called the labor—engineers, programmers and even company founders—to relocate to cities such as Austin and Miami than the monied venture capitalists. Burgeoning tech cities may find that they need to develop homegrown investor networks to support local ventures in the absence of Californian transplants, but she believes this is doable.
Paul O'Brien, CEO of the Austin-based MediaTech Ventures and a startup veteran, moved to Austin from California in 2009, during the Great Recession. "I'm a firm believer that the world has been seeking an alternative to Silicon Valley for a long time," he said, pointing to Austin as the natural heir for myriad reasons.
Austin has regional appeal as the epicenter of three of the country's largest cities—Houston, Dallas and San Antonio—and their respective industry niches. Tech entrepreneurs could cater to the local consumer goods industry or Houston's oil and gas sector. Plus the city has cultural appeal, thanks to the Red River District and South by Southwest, which made it attractive to job seekers. "The whole reason everyone moved to Silicon Valley is opportunity," O'Brien said. "The whole reason people are now looking beyond Silicon Valley to somewhere else is opportunity."
It's less clear what Miami's key industries are, O'Brien said, but the city offers other selling points, including the mayor's buy-in and "a tremendous depth of wealth" to support a technology and startup ecosystem.
Although Yared didn't consider moving to Austin, he is aware of its appeal to engineers, especially now that their hero, Elon Musk, has moved there, shunning California. "Austin has a lock on tech," he said, but Miami draws a different crowd, including financiers from New York. This parallel migration, coupled with the city's more outwardly pro-growth building policies, gives him hope that Miami could supplant Austin in the coming years. "In the end, communities get to choose what they want," he said.
- Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey talks preserving Austin ... ›
- Migration insights of Austin, who is moving to the city and who is ... ›
- Californians love Austin, but does the city love them back? - austonia ›
- California tech employees move to austin for business and way of ... ›
- Elon Musk says $1.1 billion Tesla factory will be in Austin - austonia ›
In the days after Austin FC's inaugural match against LAFC on Saturday, Head Coach Josh Wolff says he's watched the game "a number of times, to say the least."
In the match, Wolff and over 500,000 other viewers looked on as Austin FC took to the pitch for the first time, held their own in the first half against LAFC and eventually fell 2-0 to a team that's sometimes regarded as the best in the league.
Austin FC had the largest television audience of any soccer match in the U.S. over the weekend, surpassing even the USWNT. In a showcase of the club's dedicated fan base, dozens of Los Verdes fans were spotted in green and black around the stadium—even with the match limited to 20% capacity.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
While the team lost their first-ever match, they didn't make it as easy as some expected.
Wolff said that the team did relatively well offensively, holding possession for 48% of the match and keeping a solid passing game. Once they got to the box, however, Wolff said they could use some work on creating scoring opportunities.
"We saw a lot of good connections, good spacing (and) good speed of passing," Wolff said. "I think we can obviously have more presence centrally to have more numbers in between lines. I just want us to create more chances. There's a lot on both sides of the ball that we still need to work on."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Later on, however, the team gave up some goals and seemed to struggle with endurance. Wolff said the backline did "okay" and that the club, including young center back Jhohan Romana, are still getting conditioned to play a full match.
"It's a lot of information for a young player," Wolff said. "I think as he fatigues then the decision making, as with most players, becomes a little bit more cloudy and then thus the execution becomes cloudy."
An honor to represent this city and y'all. We're just getting started. 💚🖤 pic.twitter.com/tmOqCfbXvs
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) April 18, 2021
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
Going into the match, Stuver and fellow goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell were neck-and-neck, with both labeled potential starters. However, it was Stuver, who many thought signed as a backup, that wore the goalkeeper's jersey on the field for the first time.
"I think both Andrew and Brad did relatively well in preseason, but we decided with Brad just based on how we felt preseason went," Wolff said. "I thought he performed pretty well to be honest. I think he and Andrew are similar in some aspects... it's being mindful of where their strengths and weaknesses are."
Five starters made their MLS debut in the match, including midfielder Daniel Pereira and forward Rodney Redes. While Wolff said Pereira held his own in the match, he saw a weak spot in the team's right side, making it difficult for Redes to make offensive plays.
"For Pereira, I think it was a solid day for a young kid coming in his first MLS game against that opponent," Wolff said. "Obviously there's there's a different physicality to MLS and I think those are things that all these guys are going to acclimatize to.
Now, the club looks to put the ball in the back of the net for the first time as they head to Colorado. Austin FC will face the Colorado Rapids at 8 p.m.on Saturday. The match will stream on the Austin FC app and be broadcast on the CW Austin. Austonia will keep an eye out for potential weekend watch parties.
- Austonia heads to LA to cover ATXFC vs LAFC - austonia ›
- Austin FC, MLS release full 2021 schedule - austonia ›
- Matthew McConaughey and Will Ferrell go head to head in Austin ... ›
- Austin FC to play at Q2 Stadium on June 19, season opener against ... ›
- Halftime report: Austin FC is holding their own against No. 2 LAFC ... ›
- Austin FC loses steam in 2-0 loss at No. 2 LAFC - austonia ›