Austin public health officials expressed concern about the death of COVID-19 vaccines seven weeks into the national rollout. They also confirmed a slight downturn in the number of confirmed COVID cases and related hospital admissions following the massive surge that emerged around the holiday season.
A vaccine update
Since being designated a hub provider for Travis County earlier this month, Austin Public Health has received three weekly allotments of 12,000 doses. Local public health officials said Tuesday that they expect to receive another 12,000 doses next week as well. However, APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard continued to ask residents to manage their expectations, adding that the department wouldn't know for sure what their next shipment will be until later this week.
If APH receives additional doses, they will administer them Wednesday through Sunday of next week, continuing to prioritize frontline workers and residents 65 years of age and older.
At this stage of the rollout, vaccine supply remains extremely limited, with only 2% of the Travis County population receiving shots, Hayden-Howard said. This is far cry from the 70% to 75% threshold needed to achieve herd immunity.
Of the 333,650 vaccines allocated by the state last week, Travis County received 4.4%. Travis County has administered 65,050 of the vaccine so far, according the State Health Department.
Although these numbers may be proportional to the doses received elsewhere in the state, Texas remains at the end of the line when receiving the doses. Anaylis last week found that Texas was close to last in how many vaccines it was getting per capita.
Travis County officials said they are doing what they can to get the most people vaccinated as soon as possible, despite this shortage. APH is working with outside consultants to find areas for mass vaccinations, including drive-through options and implementing at-home vaccines for seniors, for whom APH is putting together a call center, Hayden-Howard said.
COVID on the decline
Despite the significant challenges with vaccine availability, there is some good news.
The daily average numbers of confirmed COVID cases and related hospital admissions are both on the decline after flattening last week. The average number of cases confirmed each day is 577, down from 680 last week, and the average number of related hospital admissions each day is 81, down from 87.8 last week.
"All the measures this week showed significant improvements in our COVID-19 situation in Travis County," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said.
Travis County remains squarely in Stage 5, the highest according to APH's risk-based guidelines, but for the first time since late December the trend line is clearly moving down from the peak.
City of Austin
Another positive sign arrived yesterday from hospitals in Trauma Service O, an 11-county region that includes the Austin area, Escott said. COVID patients now account for fewer than 15% of hospitalizations in the area, which is the threshold the state has set as an indicator of surge. TSA O now has a lower rate of COVID hospitalizations than the trauma services areas for every other major metro city in Texas. Those that include Houston, El Paso, Dallas-Forth Worth and San Antonio are all reporting that at least 18% of their hospitalizations are due to COVID.
Dr. Mark Escott attributed the long-awaited dip to people in Austin changing their behavior.
"We've got to continue that effort, we've got to push it down further," he said. "But we are doing an excellent job and, and I'm proud of this community for the work."
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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.