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Short on vaccine supply, city asks Austinites with preexisting conditions to prioritize those 65 and older
"We would really appreciate that those 65 and under please consider allowing a person that is 65 years and older to take your spot," Austin Public Health Direct Hayden-Howard said, in an effort to protect the most vulnerable population.
Currently, no proof of having a preexisting condition is required to get the vaccine.
While 1B consists of the elderly community, as well as those with preexisting conditions, APH shifted its focus to the elderly community last week. And now, officials are asking Austin residents to do the same.
Although hospitalization rates are flattening, Austin city officials say the current amount of distributed vaccines is not enough on its own to bring down case rates to a more manageable level. Travis County is still seeing over 600 new cases a day.
There has been some confusion that vaccine distribution means social distancing rules can be relaxed. However, Hayden-Howard said it is vital to stay home, wear masks and prevent transmission to friends and family in order to keep case rates down.
Among those vaccinated this week included 900 teachers and 11,100 pre-registered people who qualified for phase 1B.
Among those left out of Phase 1B include children 16 and under, regardless of preexisting conditions. Although case rates in middle and high schools are high, Austin-Travis County interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott said that the majority of these cases are not being transmitted in classrooms but in extracurricular activities and that minors are at a much lower risk of complications due to COVID-19.
"The data still supports that infection rates in middle and high schools are higher, (but) I want to be clear, the spread is not happening in the classroom space," Escott said. "The spread is happening in extracurricular activities. The data that we have in hand right now is that this disease tends to be mild in young people, so we don't have the same level of concern as we do with older adults."
This week, the city also began administering second doses to the 1,300 people who received their first dose in mid-December.
The city has continued to administer the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two doses spread three or four weeks apart, but Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine is set to present its data from clinical trials to the FDA in February. The vaccine has appeared to be more effective and easier to distribute in early trials.
Escott said that the vaccine would be groundbreaking for the Austin area.
"The fact that it is a single dose makes it easier to distribute (and) it makes it logistically possible to get it out to smaller areas in the community," Escott said. "It makes it feasible for every clinic, every pharmacy to have supplies so that folks can go to the place where they normally get their vaccinations to obtain this."
In order to make resources more accessible to users, a series of updates have been made to both the Texas Health and Human Services website and the austintexas.gov website, although officials warn that glitches may still occur. Austin Public Health has said they will also contact those who have taken the first vaccine dose to ensure the second dose is administered to them. Both websites include a map of available providers in the state and county.
Hayden-Howard said that as the system continues to be updated, a number of services will be more easily available to users.
"As the system is updated, folks will go in notice that they can easily access if they want a test, if they want a vaccine, if they are looking for test results, or if they are looking to get their second dose of the vaccine," Hayden-Howard said. "They will clearly be able to see where to click on that information."
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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Is it just us, or is the current Austin mask situation confusing? Are we supposed to wear a mask or not, and where? And should we wear one anyway, even if not requested or required?
Austin health orders requiring masks expire Tuesday. What then?
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