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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott celebrated the arrival of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in Texas and promised expanded access by March as other pharmaceutical companies get approval to distribute their own versions. He also declared an end to shutdowns.
"There will be widespread distribution," he said during a press conference at an Austin UPS facility on Thursday.
Around 95,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have already been distributed across Texas, with an additional 129,000 on their way. Eleven facilities in Hays, Travis and Williamson counties receives doses this week, in deliveries made by 10 UPS drivers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a similar vaccine from Moderna on Friday, which will allow for increased distribution. With the two vaccines in circulation, Texas officials have said 1.4 million residents will receive doses by the end of the month.
Other candidates, from the pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are also due to be approved by March, Abbott said.
More tools in the toolbox
Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt stressed that the vaccines are "proven safe and effective" and explained that, although pharmaceutical companies produced their vaccines en masse earlier than is typical, they will not distribute them until all the usual precautions are taken.
"This is a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel," he said. "But we're not done yet."
In the coming months, as the vaccines are distributed more widely, it will be important for Texans to keep up pandemic safety measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing.
State officials also encouraged the use of monoclonal antibodies in treating COVID patients—and as a way to reduce the number of hospitalizations, which are steadily rising across the state.
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made proteins that mimic the immune system's ability to defend against viruses and other pathogens. The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for this treatment last month.
"We should be very hopeful, but we should also be very patient," Hellerstedt said.
The distribution process
The Pfizer vaccines are currently being delivered to hospitals across Texas. Next week, as access widens, they will begin to go out to healthcare clinics, urgent care centers, pharmacies, free-standing emergency rooms and other facilities.
UPS driver Cornelius Littlejohn carries a box with about 5,000 doses of the vaccine on dry ice. (Bob Daemmrich)
The federal government is also debuting a program that will get vaccines into long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, with doses expected to arrive on site on Dec. 28.
Front-line healthcare workers and nursing home residents are considered top priority recipients. After those who want the vaccine receive it, Abbott said it is important for teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated to ensure in-person learning can continue.
"I urge and hope that teachers will be near the front of the line in receiving this vaccine," he said.
This is a departure from what local health officials said Wednesday.
Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott explained that senior citizens, people with underlying health conditions and communities of color—all of whom have been disproportionately impacted by COVID—will be next in line.
"A young, healthy 25-year-old teacher has a quite different risk profile than a 45-year-old teacher with diabetes," Escott said.
'No more shutdowns'
Although the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations is rising across the state of Texas—and has reached catastrophic levels in counties such as El Paso and Lubbock—Abbot foreswore any future shutdowns.
"It's time to put shutdowns behind us," he said. "No more shutdowns."
Abbott disputed the efficacy of shutdowns, pointing to the state of California, which had some of the stringent restrictions in the country and still saw COVID cases rise, and said that recent spread has largely been due to social gatherings in people's homes.
"Every adult in Texas has the responsibility to follow safe practices," he said.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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