As temperatures drop and Austinites prepare for the coldest weather in decades, Austin Public Health has announced that they are still keeping vaccine appointments on schedule.
In a press conference on Friday morning, APH said that they would be closing four COVID-19 testing locations through Friday due to inclement weather. Although St. John's, Southeast Library, Ana Lark Center and Pflugerville locations will be closed for the remainder of the day, APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said that they are continuing to monitor the forecast to see if they will postpone vaccinations. If changes are made, Hayden-Howard said they will contact individuals by email, text or phone call, and anyone needing to reschedule their appointment can contact APH.
"We are going to continue to monitor the weather to determine how it would affect our vaccine appointments from today through Tuesday of next week," Hayden-Howard said. "We ultimately want everyone to remain safe."
While freezing weather grips the city, some good news can be had. On Wednesday, APH also received second dose shipments after a delay. It began to contact those who got their first dose the week of Jan. 11.
And for the first time since Dec. 9, daily new cases have dropped below 300, and hospitalization rates continue to plummet.
Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said that if Austinites remain vigilant and stay safe, the coming months could be a vast improvement from last year.
"Our cases are coming down, our hospitalization rates are going down, and I think that's a testament to the work people are doing to decrease the spread of disease," Escott said. "Together we can get through this and certainly have a much happier and brighter summer this year than last year."
Austin and the rest of Texas have found that they are still at risk from new variants, however. On Feb. 3, the first case of the U.K. variant was detected in Austin, and on Wednesday, nearby Hays County reported their first case as well. The more contagious variant is estimated at 44 cases statewide, according to Escott.
As of last week, APH has begun releasing a weekly dashboard to monitor who is receiving the vaccine. At the end of last week, the department noticed that vaccines are being distributed disproportionately, with Black and Hispanic communities receiving less vaccinations per their share of the population. Black and Hispanic communities have also been disproportionately represented in COVID cases with more cases and hospitalizations despite smaller populations.
Hayden-Howard said that she is concerned about vaccine outreach to Black and Hispanic populations and that the department is working with grassroots organizations to fix the issue as it develops.
"It is going to be important for us as Austin Public Health to continue to work with the communities and be able to meet people where they are," Hayden-Howard said. "We have established an equity phone call line ... we are going to continue to work with our task force that has been established as well as our vaccine coalition."
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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would rescind business capacity limits and a statewide masking mandate on Texas Independence Day, he framed it as a step forward. "With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny," he said during a press conference at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock.
But some local restaurants and bars, which have been caught in the regulatory crosshairs since Texas' first positive COVID test 364 days ago, have chosen to ignore Abbott's overture. Instead, they will continue to maintain pandemic precautions once the executive order takes effect next week, citing a desire to keep their staff and patrons safe.
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(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Austonia has hired Claire Partain as a reporter covering Austin FC, the MLS expansion team that will be Austin's first major league sports franchise.
Partain is a former sports editor for the The University Star, Texas State University's daily newspaper. She edited, covered sports, produced podcasts, and hosted a pre-game TXST football tailgate live series. Partain has been freelancing with the company since January, prior to accepting a staff position.
A native of Fairfield, Texas, Partain grew up playing youth soccer. In her high school years, she played alongside her mother in what was then called the Freestone County Hispanic Women's Soccer League.
Claire's coverage philosophy: "I like to bring out the humanity of sports, and I want to make this the most accessible sports coverage possible."
She notes that soccer is the predominant sport for young people. "It's a global sport, and we're more connected to the world than older generations."
That approach fits the team's already visible presence in Austin, says Austonia CEO Mark Dewey. "Austin FC has established itself as a leading Austin brand, one that stands for a more unified Austin community, a bigger global presence for Austin and fun. Austonia shares those values."
Partain's soccer coverage begins immediately, with her free, hosted text service—Austonia FC. For updates, special access and inside info, all moderated by Claire, sign up below.
Austonia is the city's independent, free, locally-owned and all-digital source for Austin news, information and entertainment.
Connect with Austonia through its daily email newsletter and text updates, @austonianews Instagram feed, @austonianews and @austinist Twitter feeds, @austonianews Facebook page and its website austonia.com.
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Austin Public Health will release another batch of first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Thursday on Wednesday evening. A department spokesperson estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 slots will be available.
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