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Austin freestanding ERs will begin receiving the COVID vaccine after hospital ERs—a rule workers say is unfair
COVID-19 vaccines have already been delivered to healthcare workers throughout the state of Texas. However, none of those allocations went to freestanding emergency rooms physicians and nurses.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that more than 220,000 doses were doled out to medical personnel this week. In accordance with the state's two tier plan, freestanding emergency room staffers are in the program's second tier and won't begin to receive the vaccines until next week or even until the end of the month, a delay some medical personnel say is dangerous.
The allocation plan laid out Dec. 4 by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, listed "protecting health care workers who fill a critical role in caring for and preserving the lives of COVID-19 patients…" as the top basis for distributing the initial limited supply.
Although the process included hospital staff working directly with patients who are positive or at high risk for the disease to be included in the top tier of allocation—such as hospital emergency room personnel—the care staff of freestanding emergency medical care facilities was linked with urgent care clinic employees under Tier 2.
Freestanding ERs are emergency rooms that aren't physically attached to a hospital, said Dr. Daniel Roe, the medical director for Vik Complete Care, a company with 16 freestanding emergency rooms throughout Texas, including two in the Austin area. There are 200 freestanding ERs in the state, he said.
DSHS Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen said the vaccine distribution tiers are not rigid requirements but "just rough groupings" to help organize the first allocation phase. He said freestanding ERs "will begin getting vaccine(s) next week."
"There's a common misperception among both civilians and medical people that freestanding ERs see a lower acuity or lower volume of patients," said Roe, a 26-year veteran of the medical field who is board certified in emergency medicine. "And, that's just not true."
The staff of those facilities sees a range of patients, from motor vehicle accidents to heart attacks and stroke, he said. And, they are seeing a lot of the coronavirus.
Complete Care has performed 25,000 COVID-19 tests in the past few months, and is on track to perform 30,000 such tests by the end of the year, Roe said. Within the company, he said the rate of positive results for those tests is 19%, or about 4,500 positive tests, a statistic that comports with or is greater than the positivity and testing rates for hospital emergency rooms, he said.
Roe said the tier system adopted by the state for vaccine distribution priority is erroneously based on facility types instead of provider roles.
"As emergency physicians and as emergency nurses and emergency techs, we should have access to the vaccine at the same time as employees that provide care at hospital-based ERs," he said. "We've really put ourselves out there, on the front line, and we feel like we should have access to the vaccine."
Texas Emergency Care Center CEO Rhonda Sandel agrees. The registered nurse not only heads the freestanding emergency room company but is also a founding member and immediate past president of the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers, an organization that advocates for fair regulation within the field, along with serving as the current president of the group's national organization.
Along with several TAFEC affiliates, Sandel penned her name to a Dec. 16 correspondence sent to the DSHS panel that drafted the tier guidelines, urging its members to include all emergency medical personnel in Tier 1.
"I think the State absolutely got it wrong and they did a disservice to many, many healthcare providers across the state," Sandel said of excluding freestanding ERs from Tier 1. "Any emergency room personnel, whether it's in a hospital-based emergency room or a licensed, freestanding emergency room have the same exact exposure to COVID patients."
She echoed Roe's sentiments that freestanding ERs across Texas are seeing thousands of COVID-19 patients daily, with many transferred to a hospital's intensive care, or COVID-unit, without the patient ever entering the hospital's emergency room. Freestanding ER personnel are intubating many COVID patients, a procedure that helps a patient breathe but presents a high risk for passing the infection on to assisting healthcare workers, Sandel said.
"Certainly, we are not at any less risk than those physicians or those nurses working in hospital-based emergency rooms," she said.
St. David's Healthcare staff unpack the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.(St. David's Healthcare)
Additionally, a freestanding ER owned by a hospital group falls under the hospital's Tier 1 designation and is among the first group to be vaccinated, Sandel said. But a freestanding ER owned by an independent source, such as Vik Complete Care, is classified as a Tier 2 facility, whose staff will be vaccinated later, she said.
St. David's HealthCare maintains freestanding emergency centers in the Austin area, including Bastrop, Bee Cave, Cedar Park, Leander and Pflugerville. According to a St. David's spokesperson, each emergency center serves as an extension of a St. David's HealthCare hospital, hospitals that are classified as Tier 1 facilities for vaccine purposes.
"Employees of our emergency centers who meet the Tier 1 guidelines will be immunized during the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations," the spokesperson said.
St. David's Healthcare staff unpack the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.(St. David's Healthcare)
On Thursday, St. David's HealthCare received the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine and personnel were slated to administer the vaccine to its employees and medical staff on Friday.
Carol Campbell, spokesperson at local freestanding ER group Austin Emergency Center, said she's hopeful there will be enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to administer to her personnel in the first round of distributions.
"The health and safety of our frontline workers who go above and beyond every day remains a top priority for our company," she said in an email to Austonia.
The danger of delaying COVID-19 vaccines to freestanding emergency room workers is that those employees could contract the disease, compromising their ability to continue to treat high numbers of patients and shunting more patients to hospital emergency rooms, Roe said.
"If there's an ethical priority and a pragmatic priority to protect frontline healthcare workers, we are in that group," 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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