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All are racing for a vaccine with data showing younger Austinites receiving more shots than those 65+
Richard Kane, 40, received his first COVID-19 vaccine shot last week at a CVS in Temple, a little more than an hour's drive north of Austin.
The Austin Country Club tennis coach is a Type 1 diabetic and eligible for the vaccine under group 1B, which includes people 65 and older, as well as those with a medical condition.
Despite being in a high-risk category, Kane was initially more concerned about making appointments for his father and mother-in-law. When his wife was able to secure appointments for all three of them, he was mostly on board.
"I thought I would feel funny if I was there waiting in a long line, and I'm 40, and there's a bunch of people in their 60s and 70s behind me," he told Austonia.
But Kane's fears were unfounded. Now partially vaccinated, with a second appointment scheduled, Kane feels more secure, especially considering that he returned to work last May—and does not have the option to work remotely. "It definitely makes me feel more comfortable, both for myself and the other people," he said.
Three months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, there are some signs of widening access thanks to increased weekly allocations, the FDA's approval of Johnson & Johnson's single-shot candidate and expanded eligibility criteria, which now includes educators and child care staff. Although older residents still report trouble making an appointment, younger Austinites like Kane are increasingly in on the action.
Austin Public Health administered 26,645 doses of the vaccine last week. Of those, more than 65% went to people under 65 years old. This is a new development. Until last week, the majority of APH's doses had been administered to people 60 and older, according to the Austin-Travis County vaccine distribution dashboard.
Austin Public Health has been prioritizing older residents in its vaccine distribution process since they are the most at-risk of severe illness. Department officials have even said that other 1B qualified individuals should consider giving up their place in line.
Securing a spot in line
So how are young people securing a dose? There are plenty of younger Texans who are eligible for the vaccine under priority group 1B. In addition to healthcare workers, long-term care employees, and education and child care personnel, there are an estimated 311,477 Travis County residents aged 16 to 64 who have a medical condition and therefore qualify, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. This is roughly a quarter of the county population.
Dana, who asked to use a pseudonym for privacy reasons, lives in San Marcos and received her second vaccine dose in late February from Hays County. The 27-year-old was eligible under group 1B because of pandemic weight gain; obesity is one of many health conditions that increases risk of severe COVID illness, according to DSHS.
"I did have my reservations," she said, adding that she worried people might think of weight gain as a personal choice rather than legitimate eligibility criteria. "There's always someone less healthy than you."
But ultimately she opted to make an appointment, citing well-documented links between obesity and more severe COVID outcomes. "The more people who get jabs the better," she said.
Another way to secure the vaccine is to jump the line, as reported by the Texas Tribune. Because state health guidelines do not allow vaccine providers to require recipients to provide proof of a medical condition, some residents have successfully made an appointment citing membership of group 1B, despite not meeting the current eligibility criteria.
Vaccines for volunteers
Amanda Sheppard, 41, is a service coordinator for Family Eldercare, a local nonprofit that serves seniors and adults with disabilities. Because of her job, she has qualified for a vaccine since very early on in the rollout. "I had actually tried to get an appointment on the Austin Public Health website, but I wasn't able to get one," she said.
When APH hosted a vaccine clinic at the public housing community where she works on Tuesday, Sheppard volunteered—and received her first dose. "I just felt like I needed to get the vaccine because I'm going to continue to work with this population," she said.
Amanda Sheppard received her first vaccine dose on Tuesday after volunteering at a distribution event. (Amanda Sheppard)
As vaccine supply increases, so too do the number of large-scale vaccine distribution events. Central TX VACCS, a joint effort by the city of Austin and Travis County, notes on its website that volunteering at a vaccine distribution site "does NOT mean you'll receive a vaccine." But for some younger Austinites this is one way to get a vaccine before it is rolled out to the general public.
Volunteer shift at a covid vaccine center done. The 25K steps I racked up running filled syringes to docs/nurses was VERY worth it. I'm healthy but being a single mom made me nervous to get sick. An amazing, emotional day y'all. pic.twitter.com/me1n1Nr80i
— Ande Wall (@AndeWall) March 6, 2021
Woke up at 6:30, drove an hour to volunteer with helping people get vaccinated, stood for 8 hours straight on hot tarmac, and got so sunburnt I have mask tan lines.
BUT I GOT MY FIRST ROUND OF THE VACCINE 🎉🎉🎉 pic.twitter.com/ryGOilyomQ
— tyler (@spacedtyler) March 5, 2021
Those still waiting may find the wait shorter than anticipated. State officials are expected to release details on the 1C priority group, which will likely include essential workers, this month. APH Assistant Director Cassandra DeLeon urged members of the general public to start preparing a vaccine plan during a press conference on Friday.
"As we look ahead into next week, we are anticipating having additional vaccine," she said. "And so we encourage everyone to continue to work toward getting access to a vaccine and ... thinking through and talking with your healthcare provider about which vaccine you'd like to receive—¸and, when it becomes your turn to get a vaccine, continue to try to get one."
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After Austin voters passed Proposition B, reinstating a ban on public camping, City Council directed staff to look into possible sanctioned campsites where homeless residents could live legally. Now two members are asking to shelve discussion on the controversial topic.
Staff presented dozens of possible sanctioned campsites across each fo the 10 council districts in late May, following the election. But members mostly pushed back on the proposed locations, citing cost, wildfire risk and lack of transparency as concerns.
With updated criteria, staff recommended two sites—one in District 1 and the other in District 8—for further review last week. After being briefed on the options during Tuesday's work session, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, and Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, issued a joint statement proposing "a pause" on further discussion of temporary sanctioned encampments.
"We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanent," they said. "It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend out city's limited resources on solutions we know can work."
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey noted that the two locations were imperfect and would require a lot of time and money to outfit as sanctioned campsites during the briefing.
City staff and homeless experts have previously raised concerns about sanctioned encampments, saying they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to to be temporary.
In 2019, staff declined to make recommendations for such sites despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
But with Prop B being enforced and too few shelter beds and affordable units for the estimate unsheltered homeless population in Austin, the city is facing the same predicament that prompted District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo to pursue possible sanctioned campsites in the first place: "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said at a May 6 council meeting.
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Don't lose your mask just yet—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is now recommending masks in areas that are surging as cases rise nationwide and the Delta variant looms.
The CDC announced Tuesday that even fully vaccinated individuals should mask up indoors if their community is experiencing substantial transmission—defined as areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Travis County is sitting at an average of 94.59 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, falling into the highest risk category, according to the CDC.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
After two COVID-19 recommendation stage jumps in the last two weeks, from Stage 2 to Stage 4, Austin-area cases are the highest they have been since February. The seven-day average for cases is on an upward trend, reaching 226 on Tuesday.
The CDC is also recommending that all students K-12 wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. A May executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits schools from requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status. Austin ISD is "strongly" encouraging students to wear masks.
Although vaccinated individuals are still protected against the most severe symptoms of the variant, infections are spreading rapidly and now make up 83% of confirmed cases in the U.S. At least a dozen cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in the Austin area, though there are likely more since testing for it is limited.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that hospital admissions are "almost exclusively" coming from people who are unvaccinated but those who are vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.
"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant," Walensky said. "That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, rare that they are, have the potential to pool and transmit at the same with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person."
Research suggests those who become infected carry 1,000 times more of the virus than other variants and could stay contagious for longer.The announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration ramping up cautionary measures in the face of the Delta variant. Just last week, the CDC said it had no plans to change its May guidance of vaccinated not having to wear masks unless there was a significant change in the data. Officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence, according to reports.
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The Moody Center, a $338 million, 530,000-square-foot multipurpose arena at the University of Texas at Austin, celebrated its topping out on Tuesday.
With the final beam placed, the arena's steel-frame structural phase—which involved more than 5.3 million pounds of steel—is complete.
"This past year has been full of unprecedented events, not to mention weather challenges, and yet the women and men working on this project continue to deliver," Moody Center General Manager and Senior Vice President Jeff Nickler said in a press release.
To celebrate the topping out Oak View Group, the development and investment firm behind the Moody Center will affix a tree to the final beam in keeping with the time-honored tradition.
The practice dates back to ancient Scandinavian religious rites, which involved placing a tree atop new buildings to appease tree-dwelling spirits displaced during the construction process, according to the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers in Washington D.C.
After the steel-frame structure phase, the development will move on to enclosing and finishing the interior of the Moody Center.
The arena is set to open next April and already has some major acts scheduled for its inaugural year, including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, John Mayer and The Killers. It will replace the 43-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center and serve as the home of UT's men's and women's basketball games, among other sports and community events.
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