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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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.