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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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
.@MLS Commissioner @thesoccerdon and @AustinFC's Minister of Culture and part-owner Matthew @McConaughey will discuss how the League is deepening fan engagement, and how Clubs are becoming cultural mainstays at 10am on Channel 3. ⚽ #SXSW pic.twitter.com/2XFj4XEdwL
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 18, 2021
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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