The COVID-19 vaccination effort is underway in Austin and health professionals are gearing up to administer the first vaccines to the general public.
In order to work toward herd immunity and widespread vaccination, vaccine providers are working to distribute doses to individuals in groups 1A and 1B, simultaneously. And since doses of the vaccine are still limited, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Phase 1 may not be completed until the end of February.
Escott said that although the timeline appears long, Phase 1 alone is a group of tens of thousands of people who are at the most risk. These groups mainly include healthcare workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staff, people over 65 and children under 16 with underlying conditions.
"Once we can cover the 1B group, that covers the vast majority of individuals who are going to have a severe illness or death from COVID-19," Escott said. "We have the opportunity to save lives with vaccination, which means we have to be more careful now to prevent the spread so that more people have that opportunity to vaccinate in the future."
In a press conference on Wednesday, Escott said that the city's estimates on the online dashboard for the number of vaccines already administered to patients are on a pretty significant delay—the actual number is much higher.
Although the state's data says Travis County has only administered around 7,387 vaccines total, Escott said most major hospitals in the city have already administered well above that number, in the 10,000 range, each.
"(Hospitals are) doing a great job of getting vaccines out as quickly as possible," Escott said. "There's a data lag in that reporting but rest assured that the providers that have vaccines are getting it out the door as quickly as possible."
Since it will probably be several more months before the vaccine reaches Phase 2, the Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide infusion centers, which are expected to be operational early next week.
The infusion centers will provide monoclonal antibody therapy to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the high-risk categories. The infusions are designed to help alleviate the severity of their symptoms and reduce strain on hospitals.
Escott said the centers will only accept qualifying individuals into the infusion centers at first; individuals over the age of 65, as well as younger individuals who have significant underlying health conditions, will be screened and accepted if they meet the correct criteria.
"This therapy has been shown to be successful at reducing the risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19," Escott said. "We're hopeful that it will help contribute to decreasing the stress on our healthcare system."
To avoid further spread, Austin officials are asking residents to cancel their plans and stay home for New Year's Eve.
"If we don't act now, businesses are going to suffer even more, families will suffer, our way of life will suffer," Mayor Steve Adler said during the press conference. "It'll take us exponentially longer to return to life that is more normal. It is up to us and we're all in this together now."
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."