When the Texas Department of State Health Services expanded its eligibility criteria for the COVID-19 vaccine to include residents 16 and older, it was partly in response to doses sitting unused in certain regions in the state. But Austin providers continue to report strong demand, and the increased eligibility criteria may stress the limited available supply.
In Travis County both the number of doses allocated by the state and the number of doses administered by providers are trending upward.
Travis County has steadily increased the number of weekly vaccine recipients since the rollout began. The dip the week of Feb. 15 was due to the winter storm. (Texas Department of State Health Services)
Austin Public Health filled all of its available appointments as part of its regular releases on Monday and Thursday. Local CVS, H-E-B and Walgreens locations were also fully booked, and only one Randalls Pharmacy location within 50 miles of Austin had "limited availability," according to its online scheduler, as of Friday morning.
The mass drive-thru vaccine site at the Circuit of the Americas, which is a partnership between Ascension Seton, CommUnity Health Centers and Travis, Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties, has administered roughly 10,000 doses each week and remains appointment-only. CommUnity Care is reaching out to its existing patient network to schedule appointments, and the counties are working with school districts and other select populations to expand access to the vaccine.
Although Travis County Judge Andy Brown has said he hopes that weekend drive-thru will eventually open up to the public on a walk-in basis, demand remains strong enough among local priority populations—including CommUnityCare's largely un- or under-insured patient network—to fill up the weekly appointments.
In addition to expanding eligibility, DSHS also recently shifted its weekly allocation to include more pharmacies, private practices and medical clinics, including 38th Street Pharmacy, Bee Caves Family Practice and Tarrytown Pharmacy in Travis County.
Texas Medical Association President Dr. Diana Fite said this is welcome news to smaller providers who were less likely receive doses from the state earlier in the rollout, when the focus was on hub providers. "The physicians in private practice and clinic are actually very excited," she said.
This could help expand access, as private practices and clinics are able to do more direct patient outreach, and address vaccine hesitancy, as doctors may be better able to address patient concerns given their existing relationship.
After a brief lag in demand for vaccine appointments last week, Austin Public Health expanded access to its waitlist registrants who are 40 or older this week. All of the department's appointment slots were filled following releases on Monday and Thursday.
APH will open up access further starting next week to include waitlist registrants who are 18 and older.
All of the appointments have been filled for this week!💉
We are excited to announce appointments will be open to the general public, including anyone 18+. Next appointment release for the FIRST dose of Moderna will be Monday (4/12)
📌Pre-register here: https://t.co/AVhWdhK3fSpic.twitter.com/TIImdYy0IW
— Austin Public Health (@AusPublicHealth) April 9, 2021
Dr. David Lakey, vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System and a member of the Texas COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, said the decision to open access up to all adults was motivated by decreasing demand in parts of Texas. Some local health departments—including those in Beaumont, Midland and the Rio Grande Valley—opened up appointments to the general public earlier due to doses going unused.
"The reason that took place is because we were starting to see, in certain areas of the state, challenges in using the vaccine as quickly as we needed to," he told Austonia.
Fite applauded the state's decision to expand eligibility. "I think opening it up to everybody was a great idea," she said, adding that people who are essential workers but didn't fall into any of the priority groups now have access.
But Fite also stressed that expanding eligibility doesn't mean that the state's supply has increased enough to keep up with the current demand. "It seems like a lot of people still want the vaccine but have not been able to get it," she said.
I can't tell if there are no vaccines in the Austin area or if everyone is getting vaccinated. Every time I look there are no appointments available 😭
— Danielle ✌🏻 (@stfux3dannii) April 6, 2021
Some Austin residents continue to take hours-long road trips, twice, to keep appointments in other jurisdictions with more availability.
Gotta get to bed early tonight. Have to drive an hour and a half away tomorrow to get my vaccine, but it's better than trying to find an appointment here in Austin.
— Señor Lobo ⭐️🐺 (@Frute_Brute) April 2, 2021
For Texans who live in areas with high demand and are still waiting for a vaccine appointment to come available, Lakey predicts it may take until next month for supply to catch up with demand. "For the general population as a whole, it's going to be a little bit longer," he said.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.