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 Texas gets ready to lift the mandatory mask mandate on March 10, food and bar workers gathered at the Texas Capitol to express their frustration with the lack of COVID-19 precautions without adequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine.The event, which began at 1 p.m. on Monday, was hosted by the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Restaurant Organizing Project and The Amplified Sound Coalition.
Christa McWhirter<p>Crystal Maher, a member of the Restaurant Organizing Project, stands in front of the Texas Capitol to express to other protesters in attendance how not being eligible for a vaccine has impacted her ability to safely keep her job. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Kiara Collins, Eric Santos and Taylor Escamilla are all essential workers who have been questioning their safety in their workplace. As many of the other protesters, the three wore masks with the word "Expendable" on it. According to Collins, they were only given to essential workers in attendance to represent how they have been treated since the onset of COVID-19.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>As Maher continues to introduce speakers, two essential workers who came out to support the protest, record as counter-protesters heckled the event's speakers.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Some of the counter-protesters in attendance were live streamers from InfoWars, an extremist organization, who heckled speakers until the rally dispersed. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>A representative of the Del Valle Community Coalition spoke about the impact the lack of vaccine access has had on the Del Valle area. As she attempted to give her speech, anti-masking protesters yelled at her causing many people to attempt to block them out.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Protesters blocked the way of anti-mask counter protesters as they heckled the event's speakers and held "My Body My Choice" signs. "It's kind of insane how they're using 'my body, my choice.' It doesn't only affect you. So it's not just your body," Taylor Escamilla said.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Jeanette Gregor, cofounder of Amplified Sound Coalition, also had to fend off counter-protesters as she gave an impassioned speech about the danger essential workers place themselves in by going to work and have yet to qualify for COVID-19 vaccine. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Around 2 p.m., State Troopers began to arrive at the Capitol amid heightening tensions from protesters and counter-protesters. As police presence began to increase, the event came to end about 15 minutes later. Despite the constant back and forth between sides and the arrival of law enforcement, the protest came to end peacefully.</p>
The world has changed drastically over the past year, and South by Southwest, one of Austin's most beloved institutions, has, too.
After being abruptly canceled by the city last year, one week before it was set to kick-off due to the increasing understanding of the potential impact of COVID-19, it returns this year in a virtual format March 16-20.
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Austin Public Health will release first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments on a weekly basis starting Monday evening. The specific days and number of appointments made available will depend on the weekly allocation from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Previously, APH released first dose appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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