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After state expands COVID vaccine access to Group 1B, Austinites find doses remain extremely limited
Over the last week, the Capital Medical Clinic on West 38th Street has been "besieged" with phone calls.
The callers all want to know the same thing: Is the clinic offering COVID-19 vaccines to members of Group 1B? The group includes people 65 years of age and older and those with a chronic medical condition.
The answer, at least for now, is no, said Dr. James Marroquin, an internal medicine doctor who practices at the clinic.
Instead, Capital Medical Clinic is working to allocate its 500 doses to individuals in the 1A group, including its own clinical staff and other front-line healthcare workers.
Many of Travis County's 58 other facilities that have received vaccine allotments are in the same boat.
Austin Regional Clinic, Austin Public Health, H-E-B Pharmacy and many other local providers are limiting their vaccine supply to members of group 1A, which include front-line healthcare workers, first responders and long-term care facility staff and residents.
Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—are doing the same.
"Once we have more vaccines, we will start offering the vaccine to Group 1B as supply allows," Tarrytown Pharmacy Pharmacist-in-Charge Dr. Rannon Ching wrote in an email to Austonia. "We still have quite a lot of folks in 1A, but we do want to start taking care of 1B as soon as we can."
Only two facilities—Austin State Hospital and the Family Wellness Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing—are administering vaccines to individuals in Group 1B, out of more than 40 that Austonia reached out to or otherwise confirmed.
The first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed in Texas the week of Dec. 14. Gov. Greg Abbott said 1.4 million residents would receive their first dose by the end of the year.
Although vaccines continue to be distributed to facilities around the state, there have been myriad issues with the rollout, including mixed messages from health officials and data delays, and the number of Texans vaccinated falls far short of the stated goal.
Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt raised concerns of "unnecessary delays in administering all allocated vaccines and reporting those administered doses to the state's immunization registry" in a Dec. 23 memo.
As a result, he directed facilities that had received COVID vaccines to expand access to 1B individuals once all willing members of Group 1A had been vaccinated.
Less than a week later, DSHS mandated that providers "immediately vaccinate" members of both groups and directed eligible residents to call their providers to sign up for their shots.
This was confusing for clinics such as Marroquin's. With no clear guidance from the state, staff did not know whether to reserve some of their vaccine supply to ensure they would be able to administer the second dose or administer everything and hope for another allocation.
It also led to the influx of callers—in Austin and around the state—who were being told by state officials that vaccines were going unused but couldn't make an appointment at their local doctor's office.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, tweeted on Dec. 30 that the roll-out was impacted by a number of challenges, including delayed reports of how many vaccines had been administered, which led to a "false impression" that more doses were available or otherwise uncommitted.
What I think I know after a full day of non-stop meetings with state agencies and pharmacies about COVID vaccine distribution. #txlege 1/— Donna Howard (@Donna Howard)1609374917.0
The DSHS vaccine dashboard currently reports that 17,741 Travis County residents have received the COVID vaccine, out of 41,925 doses that have been distributed. Statewide, 377,050 people have been vaccinated—or just over a fourth of what the governor promised.
These numbers are likely an undercount because of the aforementioned reporting delays.
"I'll tell you that the state's reporting data on vaccines is way, way off," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at a Dec. 30 press conference.
But he also admitted that the state had not yet distributed enough doses locally to cover all of the individuals in both groups.
Austin Public Health estimates there are about 80,000 individuals in the 1A group, or nearly twice the number of doses distributed in Travis County so far, plus an additional 205,000 in 1B.
Still, Escott remains optimistic. He expects "a significant portion, if not all" members of groups 1A and 1B who wish to be vaccinated will receive their first dose by the end of February.
"Once we can cover the 1B group, that covers the vast majority of individuals who are going to have a severe illness or death from COVID-19," he said.
This confusion, however, may have lasting consequences.
Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison and Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion joined three other Black elected officials representing Central Texas in raising concerns about the "troubling roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines" and how it has deepened inequities in the state's pandemic response.
"Generations of disinvestment and underdevelopment in the Eastern Crescent led to the lack of grocery stores, pharmacies and clinics (able to distribute vaccines)," they wrote in a statement issued Monday. "This is a major concern given that the Black and Latino communities within the Crescent are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and have seen disproportionately higher rates of death due to the illness."
On Monday, Marroquin and his colleagues had trouble reaching patients, which some suspected was due to the flood of incoming calls from vaccine seekers.
"There's like a frenzy out there," he said.
Updated 4:45 p.m. to include a response from the Austin State Hospital.
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After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
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The 2020(1?) Olympics have induced plenty of late nights and early mornings for millions of Americans as they watch the world's best leap, flip and dive through the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Over two dozen athletes with Austin ties and many more from Texas are making headlines for their contributions to the Games, including 17-year-old gold medal swimmer Lydia Jacoby and legendary softball pitcher Cat Osterman.
So far, Austin athletes have racked up a gold and two silvers for Team USA. Some have more history-making opportunities ahead of them in the Games; others are soon headed home early with no medal but an Olympic title nonetheless. Team USA is in third place overall and has accumulated 40 medals, the second-most behind China, at this year's Games.
We're one week into the Games. Here's a quick look at the biggest headlines in this year's controversial competition and how athletes with Austin ties stacked up.
The Olympics' strangest Games to date? A quick rundown
This year's Games have been an outlier for several reasons. Many athletes have been impacted by COVID, with some saying that the Olympics maybe shouldn't have happened at all.
Millions of fans are getting an insider's view of the Olympics thanks to TikTok. U.S. women's rugby sevens star Ilona Maher helped viewership of her sport spike after her witty videos, including a clip where the team attempts to break the Olympic Village's cardboard beds.
The once-delayed Games have also seen upsets like no other, with many U.S.-dominated sports being championed by the most unlikely of teams.
In gymnastics, Texas native and world-renowned gymnast Simone Biles stepped out of the team competition left the team final and the individual all-around due to what is known as the "twisties," a sort of mind-and-body disconnect that could result in life-threatening injuries. Biles isn't sure if she'll compete in individual events next week, but her team is still doing well without their leader: the U.S. won silver as a team and Suni Lee was the individual gold medal winner.
A condom was used to repair the canoe of world-renowned Australian canoeist Jessica Fox. Meanwhile, a crash put Rio gold medalist Connor Fields in the hospital after a dangerous crash involving six riders on the BMX track.
Things got awkward in a post-swimming press conference when Team USA silver medalist Ryan Murphy and British bronze medalist Luke Greenbank said that the Games are "probably not clean," alluding to Russia's state-sponsored doping campaign that forced them to switch names to the Russian Olympic Committee. ROC competitor Evgeny Rylov was the gold medalist in the event.
Austin athletes have taken a gold and two silvers so far in the Games, with two swimming medals and a silver softball title.
Upcoming UT freshman Lydia Jacoby earned her first gold medal as a 17-year-old in the women's 100m. The Alaska native is the first of her state to win a swimming gold medal, and she completed the feat despite not having an Olympic-size swimming pool to train with.
Longhorn Erica Sullivan made it to the podium as well with a silver medal in the women's 1500m freestyle, finishing just behind U.S. star Katie Ledecky.
Legendary UT alum Cat Osterman's decorated Olympic run is up. The 38-year-old lefthanded pitcher left her final Olympics with a bittersweet silver medal after home team Japan secured the gold in the women's softball final. The loss was the first time the two had seen each other since Japan first took the gold from Team USA in 2008, the last time softball had been in the Olympics. Osterman's next move is off the pitcher's mound; the current assistant coach at Texas State University hopes to work for a nonprofit in Austin after she officially retires on September 27.
Those who went home
While every Olympian wants to go home with that precious metal, even making it to the world's biggest competition is a feat on its own. Here are the Austin athletes who didn't quite make it to the podium:
- Longhorn swimmer Townley Haas was 5th in the semifinals of the men's 200m freestyle and did not advance.
- Despite being medal favorites, Longhorn Gia Doonan and her women's eights crew just missed the mark with a fourth place finish in Tokyo after many members recovered from COVID.
- Austinite Alison Gibson and partner Krysta Parmer finished eighth in the women's 3m synchronized diving competition.
- Haas and fellow UT alum Drew Kibler helped Team USA to a fourth-place finish in the men's 4x200m swimming freestyle.
- Caspar Corbeau, a Longhorn swimming for the Netherlands, finished 7th in his opening heat for the men's 100m and 200m swimming freestyle.
- Remedy Rule, a Longhorn swimming for the Philippines, finished eighth in the semifinal for the women's 200m butterfly.
- Anna Elendt, a UT swimmer competing for Team Germany, finished 7th in the semifinals of the women's 100m freestyle and was sixth in the prelims as part of the 4x100 medley relay.
What's to come
Sugar Land native and standout Simone Manuel helped Team USA to set a single-day record for medals won on Sunday with a bronze in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Fellow Team USA star Caeleb Dressel established his dominance with a first-place finish in the men's 100-meter freestyle on Thursday and set an Olympic record in the prelims of the 100m butterfly after helping the men's 4x100m freestyle earlier in the week.
Coming up, former Longhorn Joseph Schooling, who beat Michael Phelps in the Rio Olympics, will compete in the men's 100m butterfly final alongside Dressel on Saturday.
Hailey Hernandez, a Texan diver who is coming to UT in the fall, was the youngest competitor to advance to the semifinal round of the women's 3m springboard competition early Saturday morning.
Track and field
UT alum Teahna Daniels has advanced to the women's 100m semifinals alongside teammates Javianne Oliver and Jenna Prandini after a heat-winning time of 11.04 seconds. Daniels and crew will look to establish themselves as the world's fastest women in the semifinals at 6:15 a.m. followed by the finals at 8:50 a.m.
The women's 100m trio were some of the first to hit the track on Thursday. Team USA DQ'd in the 4x400m mixed race on Thursday, squandering veteran Alyson Felix's quest for another medal. Ethiopia and Uganda are the only current medal-winners for the sport, but UT alum Melissa Gonzalez will look to change that on Saturday morning as she competes in the women's 400m hurdles. Fellow Longhorn Pedra Seymour will begin her fight to beat her 6th place finish in Rio as she runs in the prelims for the women's 100m hurdles for Team Bahamas on Saturday, while men's long jumper Steffin McCarter will look to qualify in the men's long jump competition that afternoon.
The world's fastest men will begin competition Saturday morning as well, with Team USA's Trayvon Bromell as the favorite to get the gold.
Other UT track stars including world-record shot putter Ryan Crouser (Thursday), Team Jamaica 4x400m runner Stacey-Ann Williams (Thursday), and long jumper Tara Davis (Sunday) will hit the track next week.
Win or go home AND WE’RE NOT GOING HOME YET 😤 pic.twitter.com/qdK7Aa7c4s— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) July 30, 2021
Team USA advanced to the semifinals in penalty kicks in an adrenaline-pumping match early Friday morning. Next, they'll play Canada in the semifinals to compete for that top spot and avenge their loss in Rio as they fight for the finals. On Team Canada's Olympic team is UT midfielder Julia Grosso, who has helped her team to a win and three draws thus far.
Kevin Durant and team have had a rocky start to the Olympics, leaving many to wonder if their No. 1 status is in jeopardy. The team suffered their first Olympic loss since 2004 in a 83-76 upset against France. They bounced back with an easy win against Iran, though the win was expected against a team with no NBA players in their roster. Next up is the Czech Republic, a team with two NBA talents that the U.S. is expecting to smother at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
The USA Women's basketball team picks up their first W 🚨— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 27, 2021
USA takes down Nigeria, 81-72
A'ja Wilson (Olympic debut): 19 PTS | 13 REB pic.twitter.com/cRwnEgAzhn
The U.S. women's basketball team, including UT alum Ariel Atkins, have shakily continued their world dominance in Tokyo. The team is 2-0 in Group B after an 81-72 defeat over Nigeria and 86-69 victory over Japan. Atkins celebrated her birthday on the same day as the Japan defeat.
Next up, the team will look to increase their winning margins as they take on France at 12:40 a.m. on Monday.
Longhorn middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu and the Team USA volleyball team are fighting hard for their first gold medal in 57 years. The team has already swept defending gold medalists China and was undefeated in group play with wins over Argentina and Turkey as they head to the quarterfinals starting Wednesday, They'll look to defeat the ROC and Italy in their final group rounds along the way.
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