The Ski Shores Cafe is reopening to the public Saturday after almost a year-long hiatus, an employee confirmed with Austonia.
Ski Shores reopened for the first time for a private event Thursday in preparation for the official reopening and has been teasing a return “very soon” on social media.
The Hut sits right at the entrance, selling gifts and merchandise. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Local hospitality group McGuire Moorman Lambert acquired the legacy brand in November 2021, pledging to freshen up the 2905 Pearce Road location while preserving the character and menu.
Guests at the opening enjoyed food, drinks and lakeside fun. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
A little history: Ski Shores opened on Lake Austin in 1954 and expanded to Zilker Park in February 2020, which MML converted into a second Lou’s location earlier this year.
The history is honored at the front entrance. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The restaurant has been quiet on the details but there are some new additions to the restaurant, such as a pickleball court.
What’s on the menu: Fried catfish, fried oysters, burgers, salads, enchiladas, chicken tenders, frozen custard and comfort casual lakeside food.
In light of new state and federal COVID-19 policies, Austin Public Health will debut a new School Saturdays vaccine program this weekend, focused on vaccinating school staff and childcare providers. Department officials also continued to stress the importance of masking and distancing given new variants, the low overall vaccine rate and the prospect of a third surge following spring break and the Easter holiday.
"It is effectively a moral imperative that people wear masks," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a press conference Friday.
The Texas Department of State Health Services announced Wednesday that school and child care staff are now eligible for COVID vaccines after receiving a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directing states to expand priority groups to include these workers. President Joe Biden called on states to prioritize vaccinating teachers earlier this week as part of a renewed effort to reopen schools.
APH plans to focus vaccine distribution efforts to teachers, bus drivers, Head Start employees and other newly eligible residents during School Saturdays, starting tomorrow. Current outreach is focused on the more than 10,000 educators who have already signed up for APH's waitlist. "Education is definitely our priority," Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said.
The expansion of vaccine eligibility to include teachers has raised concerns given the well-documented supply shortage and tech issues that have plagued the rollout so far. "I think one of the big failures of public health across the country has been its investment in information technology," Escott said. "We're still working from fax machines … to receive some cases. We have systems that don't talk to one another."
Although the department is making improvements, including a recently implemented queuing system, many eligible residents still report not being able to make an appointment and overall glitchiness. These problems could be compounded by additional demand—and the possibility that the state will further open up eligibility to include a group 1C of essential workers in the next couple of weeks. "It's an evolving system," APH Assistant Director Cassandra DeLeon said, adding that as more vaccine supply becomes available she anticipates the system will run more smoothly–similar to what happened during the testing rollout last year.
With more than 218,000 eligible residents currently registered with APH and a standing weekly allocation of 12,000 doses from DSHS, the department is only able to schedule around 5.5% of users for appointments each week. This rate may improve, however, now that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is part of the mix. A state health department spokesperson told Austonia earlier this week that more than 200,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be allocated next week.
Some residents may be concerned about the vaccine, which was found to be less effective in clinical trials than the Pfizer and Moderna candidates. But Escott said "it is an excellent vaccine," with a higher efficacy rate than flu vaccines in recent years and the potential to benefit many more people because it only requires one dose. "The vaccine that you can get is better than the vaccine that you can't get," he added.
With new confirmed COVID cases and related hospitalizations trending downwards in recent weeks, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he would lift business capacity restrictions and the statewide masking mandate next week, opening Texas 100%.
(Austin Public Health)
Since a peak in mid-January, the average number of new COVID cases confirmed each day in Travis County has plummeted from nearly 702 to 183. Hospitalizations have followed a similar trajectory, dropping from an average of 94 in early January to 27 on Thursday.
But local public health officials are still concerned about the possibility of a third surge, citing new variants and events such as spring break and Easter, which APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette called "opportune times for people to gather and have festivities."
With businesses reopening, including possibly bars, and the chance that residents may abandon masks, this could spell trouble for the local healthcare system. "I think it's reckless for bars to be open in the first place," Escott said. "Those individuals who frequent bars are those same individuals who have close to zero vaccinations."
Despite the governor's green light, Escott and local elected officials have asked Austin businesses to follow the local risk-based guidelines, which currently recommend a maximum capacity of 50%.
"I feel like our business owners understand the importance of masking, understand the importance of social distancing," Escott said. "And I think our business owners understand that if people don't feel safe in a space they will not come."
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Travis County is now in Stage 4 according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, and local officials have asked businesses to limit their capacity to at least 50% in an attempt to avoid the "catastrophic surge" seen in other Texas jurisdictions.
"None of us want to close businesses. None of us want to close schools," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a press conference on Thursday. "That is an absolute last resort for us."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ruled out "any more lockdowns" last week, according to the Texas Tribune, prompting some pushback from local officials in the most affected areas.
Since Nov. 1, Travis County has reported a 130% increase in the average number of new COVID cases reported each day. Meanwhile, the average number of new COVID-related hospitalizations each day has nearly doubled.
With no change in the current transmission rate, the Austin metro could see demand for ICU beds more than triple its current capacity by March, according to updated projections from the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas Austin.
Although the Austin area is faring better relative to other Texas metros, including El Paso and Dallas, local health officials are concerned that Thanksgiving gatherings will further accelerate transmission.
"It's effectively Labor Day and Memorial Day and Independence Day combined into one big event," Escott said, noting that Thanksgiving poses "the most significant risk" seen since the pandemic began.
At Stage 4, Austin Public Health recommends residents to avoid any non-essential travel and businesses operate at 25% to 50% capacity. Higher-risk individuals, including those over 65 or who have preexisting conditions, are also encouraged to avoid gatherings of more than two people.
"If we don't take the steps to change now … we could be in Stage 5 territory in just a few weeks," Escott said.
Stage 5 recommendations include avoiding all gatherings outside of one's household and any non-essential trips.
The threshold for Stage 4 has changed since Travis County was last at this risk level in August.
Previously, it was an average of 40 new COVID-related hospital admissions each day. However, given concerns about ICU staffing levels at area hospitals, local health officials have lowered it to 30. The threshold for Stage 5 has also changed, from 70 to 50.
Austin area hospitals have also taken in at least 13 patients from other jurisdictions that have already exceeded their local capacity.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler pointed out that the last time the region was in Stage 4 and approaching Stage 5, residents successfully flattened the curve.
"We have control over our future," he said. "We've done this before, now let's do it again. The vaccine is close. We're almost there."
This time around, however, a major holiday threatens to accelerate the spread of COVID—and pandemic fatigue may be testing people's adherence to protective measures.
This Thanksgiving, Austinites should avoid gathering with people outside of their household, Escott said. For those who choose to do so against expert advice, he stressed the need to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Escott also cautioned those who are getting tested this week from being lulled into a false sense of security.
"A negative test this week does not provide you any effective protection for next week," he said.
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