Austin Public Health plans to have its COVID-19 vaccine appointment scheduling system back up and running by Thursday evening after the department shut down the system late Monday due to technical issues.
Due to the delays, APH tweeted that it will likely need to add an additional day of appointment scheduling outside of its typical release schedule, with appointments dropping on Monday and Thursday evenings.
The technical issues emerged during the Monday evening release period, when APH had 6,000 appointments available for scheduling. "After working with our vendor for multiple hours, it appears there is no immediate fix we can make," the department tweeted. "Unfortunately this means we must end scheduling." As a result, only 2,300 appointments were scheduled at the time, according to a statement issued by the city.
APH provided an update on Tuesday, tweeting that it had identified the issue and was working with its vendor, Salesforce, to get the program up and running in time for the regularly scheduled Thursday release. However, due to the issues, APH does not know who was in the queue on Monday when the issues arose; the department is working to identify those individuals to schedule appointments, a spokesperson told Austonia.
Remaining appointment slots for Friday and Saturday are still scheduled to be released Thursday evening.
After working with our vendor throughout the day, we have identified the issue that occurred during scheduling last night that came from a new program code. We will continue to test the system to have a successful first dose appointment release on Thurs. evening (3/18)
— Austin Public Health (@AusPublicHealth) March 16, 2021
APH's scheduling system has been mired by technical glitches since its debut in mid-January. City staff have worked with the Salesforce team to work on improvements, including a new queuing system, but users continue to report issues—and frustration— with the rollout.
It's embarrassing that in a tech city like this you didn't partner with a firm who could have helped roll this out better.
— parchment (@halfstreet) March 16, 2021
Tara Morales commented on a recent APH Facebook update about her experience. "I've been helping my entire family through the process and feel awful that I sent them the rundown for them only to waste their time," she wrote late Tuesday evening. "I'm getting really tired of spending ALL EVENING Mondays and Thursdays to be so disappointed."
She wasn't alone. "And everyone that waited 6 hours in line only to be booted has to go to the back of the line and try again?!" Brandon Bosserman commented. "Talk about a massive fail. Your should be ashamed. Everyone done it better."
Others wrote that they had had better experiences with local providers such as the University of Texas at Austin, Williamson County and CVS.
"After 3 times waiting hours on APH site and getting no where I went on UT site Monday morning, scheduled appointments for Tuesday afternoon," Chris Thompson commented. "An hour plus to wander through the cue, second dose scheduled at the same time."
In addition to the tech issues, APH continues to face demand that far outstrips its supply of available vaccine doses. Since being designated a hub provider by the state in January, the department has received 12,000 initial doses each week. More than 200,000 people are registered on APH's waitlist who qualify for a vaccine under groups 1A and 1B or as an educator—and are still waiting for an appointment, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Austonia on Saturday.
State officials also recently expanded eligibility to include residents ages 50 to 64 under group 1C, which APH estimates will add an additional 200,000 or so people on its waitlist to the priority population. "There's not enough vaccine to go around right at the moment," he said.
Although APH did not make appointments available to those in group 1C on Monday, the department is working to make modifications to its scheduling system to allow it to prioritize registrants in that category, according to a statement issued Saturday.
Read more on APH glitches here:
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."