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With concerts and festivals suddenly shuttered last spring amid escalating COVID-19 cases, two local companies that provided medical and security for those large-scale events were forced to pivot to other roles to stay afloat.
And their efforts have paid off, sustaining employees and helping Austin-area communities stay healthy.
We Are Code 4 Emergency Services, founded in 2015, shifted its pre-pandemic focus from coordinating security at venues such as Euphoria and Houston's Astroworld Festival, to offering COVID-19 safety consultations, testing and vaccinations, including last week's COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Austin ISD's Performing Arts Center.
Healthcare workers receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination drive administered by Code 4 Emergency Services at the AISD Performing Arts Center in Mueller on Jan. 14. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
The effort was a joint project between Code 4 and the Travis County Medical Society, with the latter looking for a vaccine source to immunize outpatient medical offices that aren't affiliated with a hospital and, therefore, didn't get the serum first, said Leanne Dupay, TCMS director of marketing and communications.
Code 4 "turned out to be the perfect solution" for Dupay's group, handling the vaccine side of the program while TCMS put the word out to its members that the inoculations would be available.
When the pandemic took hold around the country this spring, company President Scott Davidson and his staff brainstormed as to how to keep the business alive with concerts, sports and conferences suddenly halted.
Scott Davidson, president and owner of Code 4 Emergency services, during an interview with Austonia at a Vaccination Event at the AISD Performing Arts center on Jan. 14. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
"We knew that the event and entertainment industry would be the first affected and probably the last to come back online," said Davidson. "It went from what was going to be an incredible year to virtually nothing in the books in terms of what we were accustomed to doing."
With medical resources already in place, Chief Strategy Officer Jonathan Alba said the company first created a biohazard division that enabled existing and new government clients, such as the city of Austin and Travis County, to try to curtail the spread of the virus.
"Our pivot was switching the risk that we were mitigating," Davidson said. "We went from car bombs, active shooters (and) severe weather to mitigating the virus."
A worker from Code 4 Emergency Services sprays an electrostatic decontaminate on exercise equipment at a YMCA in Oak Hill. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
The organization established a training program referencing new pandemic protocols.
"Most of us, prior to the pandemic, thought we knew how to clean and how to disinfect something," Alba said. "We definitely learned a lot ourselves. As we are doing this work, we're also training every facility we come into on what to do and what not to do."
Headquartered at Austin Studios, Code 4 attracted the business of local film and media companies seeking to address the industry's unique risks on and off production sets.
Three workers from Code 4 Emergency Services decontaminate a film set in Bastrop, TX to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
"We got wind, early on, that the film industry was trying to come back," Davidson said, adding the industry has very strong COVID-19 safety guidelines. The partnership "was a natural fit" and Code 4 has consulted on more than 70 productions since March, including Rooster Teeth studio series and advertising shoots for Samsung Group and Jeep automobile maker, he said.
"On these sets, these people are accustomed to working a certain way and, frankly, we have to challenge their tradition constantly—just the way that you would hold a camera and work as a team to capture a shot," Alba said. "We have to tell them, 'you don't work that way anymore.'"
Industry changes ran the gamut from altering craft services to transportation, post-production and voice overs.
"It's really looking at everything they do and basically rearranging it to be done in a way that honors public health and keeps everyone safe, while not shutting down the production," Alba said.
Carlos Cardec, one of the founders of First Medical Response walks around the company trailer on Jan. 15. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
As with Code 4, First Medical Response of Texas focused on medical care for private and public events pre-pandemic, including San Antonio's Fiesta Oyster Bake, Stock Show & Rodeo and Spurs games, company founder Edwin Reyes said. The quarter-century business is based in Dripping Springs but has a San Antonio office as well.
The curtailment of these events at the start of the pandemic forced Reyes to realign his roster of 120 part-time staffers who serve as medical personnel and first responders in their primary jobs. He's been an Austin Emergency Medical Services paramedic for more than 20 years.
Reyes said the change took him and business partner Carlos Cardec by surprise, and the company's event calendar "was gone with the blink of an eye."
"We had some big decisions to make," he said. "Is it time to say 'goodbye' to our hard-earned work of the past 25 years or do we try to figure out other options?"
Eventually, the business partners dove into coronavirus testing and screening by embarking on a new division, one that's been profitable due to the sheer volume of procedures undertaken, Reyes said. By employing a mobile trailer to test employees onsite, he said the practice makes it easier for staffers to receive the test at their place of employment, rather than travel to a testing clinic.
Edwin Reyes in the First Medical Response trailer on Jan. 15. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
The team also began consulting—sharing information with clients on procedures that would mitigate potential hazards, keep their staff safe, and allow their businesses to open back up, Cardec said.
Then came vaccinations. The company became licensed to give the vaccines and, with 1,000 Moderna doses, its staff held its first vaccine clinic on Dec. 30, Reyes said.
First Medical Response gave higher risk staff at Lake Travis ISD their initial round of vaccines, bringing the trailer to Lake Travis High School on Jan. 19. One of those lucky recipients was Kara King, a middle school science teacher and the mayor of Bee Cave, who has suffered from bilateral pulmonary embolisms, or blood clots in both lungs.
"I've always been nervous being around all of the kids every day and having diminished lung capacity," King said. "To get that vaccine yesterday, I feel so much peace now and relief that it's really going to be okay. It really is."
Reyes said the company's mobile clinic could be used to help people who need the vaccine but aren't within striking distance of a hub.
"We want to help out as much as we can but we are limited and controlled by how fast we get the vaccinations and how the state decides to push forward with the program," he said.
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After a long, long year without live music, Austin has waited patiently for a return that has finally come. Festivals are planning returns and even venues that adhered strictly to safety protocols during the pandemic are feeling safe enough to gather again in person.
Starting in just a few short days, you can finally enjoy what makes Austin, well, Austin again. Here are a few of the live shows to look forward to.
Stubb's Waller Creek, 801 Red River Street
For the first time since the pandemic shut the iconic venue down forcing canceled and rescheduled shows, Stubb's BBQ is reopening its amphitheater to the public for concerts starting with a series of five sold-out Black Pumas shows, each with different openers, from May 26-30. It may be too late to catch Black Pumas this time around but Stubb's already has a host of other shows scheduled up through December. You can catch Surfaces, a College Station-based jazz-pop-hip-hop and vocals heavy duo known best for their song "Sunday Best," on Stubb's Stage on June 25 while tickets go on sale this Friday.
Next at Stubb's is electronic duo Louis the Child on July 28 and 29 on their "Euphoria Tour," followed by Umphrey's McGee on Sept. 9.
Mohawk Austin, 912 Red River Street
Likewise, Mohawk Austin has remained closed for more than a year since the onset of COVID-19, even tweeting "Thanks bro but we ain't gonna do it till it's safe," in response to Gov. Greg Abbott lifting all safety restrictions back in March. Starting May 27, Mohawk is officially back with Heartless Bastards and opener The Tender Things.
From there, Mohawk has an exciting lineup—Jukebox the Ghost will play on Sept. 10, Bully and opener Lightning Bug on Sept. 17, Big Freedia and Too Many Zooz on Oct. 4 and Beach Bunny on Dec. 14, with several talented artists in-between. Keep checking back though, Mohawk will continue to add shows and is currently planning on operating at 50%.
Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River Street
Though it is making a later comeback than Stubb's or Mohawk, the Frank Erwin Center will make a huge return on Aug. 14 featuring Tame Impala. If you missed their highly popular set at Austin City Limits Festival in 2019 or you want to relive it, this is the chance to do so. Plus, you get the added benefit of being able to see the stage, though you will still be watching with around 16,000 other spectators. Michael Bublé will have you swooning when he comes to perform on Sept. 20 and Chris Stapleton is taking his "All American Road Show" live on Nov. 4.
Nutty Brown Amphitheatre, 12225 US-290
Holding some socially distanced concerts earlier this year, the Nutty Brown Amphitheatre isn't stopping there with rap artist Ginger Billy playing two sets on May 7. Nutty Brown has a star-studded lineup ahead: Austin-based Bob Schneider on May 8 and other Austin favorite Shinyribs will grace the stage May 29. A little further down the line, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts will take over on Aug. 21 followed by Styx on Oct. 23.
Texas Performing Arts Center, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive
If you prefer a little bit more visual appeal to go with your music, the Texas Performing Arts Center is reopening in-person after consistent online events. First up is Cody Ko and Noel Miller, a multi-hyphenated YouTuber-podcaster-comedian duo, who will perform their "Tiny Meat Gang – Global Domination," on July 31. Of course you can't miss The Beach Boys, coming to the theater on Oct. 24, or a two-week long production of Hamilton from Dec. 7-19. For all the young ones that have missed going out in-person, "Disney Princess—The Concert" is coming to the Texas Performing Arts Center on Feb. 6, 2022, performing timeless gems like "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast and featuring all their other favorite princesses. Tickets go on sale this Friday.
Remember to jump on those tickets–Austinites have been missing their live music!
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For Marco Silvestrini, gelato takes him back to his childhood when he and neighborhood kids in a small Italian town would end their day at the local gelato shop. It was part of what made some of the best memories for him.
He's since been offering that same experience for the past seven years with his artisanal gelato shop, Dolce Neve, in Austin, alongside his sister and her husband.
Leo Ferrarese, Marco and Franscesa Silvestrini run Dolce Neve. (Dolce Neve)
While gelato always played a big role in Silvestrini's life, it wasn't in his plans to take on a business with his favorite treat. After a few years in New York working as a management consultant, he felt he was missing out on something. "I decided to take a step back and started thinking, what could... I do to make society better and happier, even just for a moment," Silvestrini said.
He thought back to his childhood and the role gelato played in it and wanted to offer the same experience to Americans.
Once he had the product idea down, it came down to location. Growing up among farmers in a small community in Central Italy, Silvestrini knew he wanted a slower pace of living than New York, so he asked around. The answer he got: "Austin." The only thing he knew about what would become his future home was it had a Formula 1 track.
But after visiting once, he felt a great sense of community he didn't feel in The Empire State. "I felt it was not just a good place for a concept like mine, but also a good place to live because at the end of the day, you cannot just think about your business," he said.
"Dolce Neve" translates to "sweet snow." The shops offers 12-18 flavors at a time. (Dolce Neve)
Similarly, his sister Francesca Silvestrini was experiencing the same feelings while studying for her Ph.D. in Ohio before teaming up with Silvestrini. She went back to Italy to be properly trained in making gelato while Silvestrini focused on the business plan. They brought Leo Ferrarese, her husband, onboard and opened their first shop on South First Street in January 2014. The rest is history.
On the menu, you'll find various traditional and innovative flavors that rotate out. Some of the staples include chocolate, 100% vanilla from Madagascar and salted caramel. Other rotating or seasonal flavors include whiskey and pecan, organic cantaloupe sorbet, goat cheese and pecan, almond custard and tiramisu. They've created over 300 flavors together in the span of the business.
So what's next for the shop? Lately, Silvestrini has been thinking a lot about that. With two locations in Austin, one in Houston—he's just not sure if expanding more is the right move. Maintaining a quality product and good service is of utmost importance that he's not willing to sacrifice.
"In order to be happy, it's not about making money, it's about being an integral part of the community," Silvestrini said. "There have been so many cases in which I think what I did today really made a difference in somebody's life."