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COVID testing sites close, vaccine appointments stay on track despite freeze

(Jordan Vonderhaar)

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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