As Texas gets ready to lift the mandatory mask mandate on March 10, food and bar workers gathered at the Texas Capitol to express their frustration with the lack of COVID-19 precautions without adequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine.The event, which began at 1 p.m. on Monday, was hosted by the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Restaurant Organizing Project and The Amplified Sound Coalition.
Gina Dvorak and another Restaurant Organizing Project member set up by putting up a sign which reads, "We Won't Die to Serve You. 70% before 100%." Organizers of the protest believe that the population should be at least 70% vaccinated before opening Texas 100% back up.
Crystal Maher, a member of the Restaurant Organizing Project, stands in front of the Texas Capitol to express to other protesters in attendance how not being eligible for a vaccine has impacted her ability to safely keep her job.
The event hosted around 50 people, most of whom are also restaurant and bar workers facing the difficulties of working during the pandemic.
Kiara Collins, Eric Santos and Taylor Escamilla are all essential workers who have been questioning their safety in their workplace. As many of the other protesters, the three wore masks with the word "Expendable" on it. According to Collins, they were only given to essential workers in attendance to represent how they have been treated since the onset of COVID-19.
As Maher continues to introduce speakers, two essential workers who came out to support the protest, record as counter-protesters heckled the event's speakers.
Some of the counter-protesters in attendance were live streamers from InfoWars, an extremist organization, who heckled speakers until the rally dispersed.
A representative of the Del Valle Community Coalition spoke about the impact the lack of vaccine access has had on the Del Valle area. As she attempted to give her speech, anti-masking protesters yelled at her causing many people to attempt to block them out.
Protesters blocked the way of anti-mask counter protesters as they heckled the event's speakers and held "My Body My Choice" signs. "It's kind of insane how they're using 'my body, my choice.' It doesn't only affect you. So it's not just your body," Taylor Escamilla said.
Jeanette Gregor, cofounder of Amplified Sound Coalition, also had to fend off counter-protesters as she gave an impassioned speech about the danger essential workers place themselves in by going to work and have yet to qualify for COVID-19 vaccine.
Around 2 p.m., State Troopers began to arrive at the Capitol amid heightening tensions from protesters and counter-protesters. As police presence began to increase, the event came to end about 15 minutes later. Despite the constant back and forth between sides and the arrival of law enforcement, the protest came to end peacefully.
Local plumbers have been overwhelmed with customers as the full extent of pipe damage is realized from frozen pipes thawing after days of sub-freezing temperatures.
With so many pipe issues resulting from the freezing temperatures of the past week, plumbing companies are being bombarded with calls for service. Radiant Plumbing and Air Conditioning is experiencing up to a 300% increase in calls, and ABC Home and Commercial Services is receiving about 1,000 calls a day. Such a drastic increase in call volume means that many customers are not able to get through to plumbers or retain appointment slots.
(2) On Tuesday, a major pipe burst under our house (pictured). A plumber from NextDoor called me and coached my partner and I on how to shut off the city valve from the street- residential valve was unusable. pic.twitter.com/9i3ApgGfaC
— emily (@emily86008799) February 22, 2021
Bailey Klentzman, an Austin resident who experienced a burst pipe in her home on Monday afternoon, said her family has had trouble getting an appointment to fix their plumbing because local plumbers are so overbooked.
Despite not being able to successfully book a plumber, they have been able to get a contractor out to assess the damage to the floors and ceilings affected by the water damage. Although the Klentzmans appropriately prepared by leaving faucets dripping and cabinets open, they will still need to replace the floor and ceiling around the pipes due to severe water damage.
While struggling to find a plumber to come out, Klentzman, her husband and two dogs, have been without water for five days as of Saturday evening.
"I'm a hiker and I've done bad hikes before where I didn't plan so I had to ration water in that way, but that's just a few hours," Klentzman said. "Days without water was a little scary. I felt like I was really rationing."
After two days of rationing the little water they had, Klentzman said their neighbors came to their rescue, leaving containers of drinkable water and dog food at their home.
Chris Webb, another Austin resident, also experienced a burst pipe in his home.
Webb was out of town during the freeze, but knew something had gone awry when he received a text from his roommate.
"I got a text message from my roommate while I was trying to get home that just said, 'Code Red, man. Code red.' And I knew that that meant a pipe had finally gone."
Webb, like Klentzman, properly prepared his home to protect their pipes, unfortunately, his home has experienced extensive damage to, not only the plumbing, but the entire bathroom the leak happened in.
Having lost water due to the plumbing disaster since Wednesday after 40 hours without power, Webb and his housemates have finally had a plumber come out and restore their water.
"The whole (bathroom) wall is gutted and ripped out, but we got water running again ... and we're down to one bathroom for the house."
While overwhelmed plumbers scramble to fit Austin customers into their books, Gov. Greg Abbott has temporarily waived certain regulations for registered and qualified Plumber's Apprentices in Texas.
These waivers will allow Plumber's Apprentices, who have met all other qualifications, to temporarily repair plumbing in the state without direct supervision by a licensed plumber.
"These waivers will help meet the plumbing needs of Texans who have experienced burst pipes and other related damage from the severe winter weather," Abbott said. "By allowing certain registered and qualified Plumber's Apprentices to perform these repairs, we will be able to expedite the recovery process throughout our communities."
Despite days without power, burst pipes and extensive water damage, many Austinites share the same sentiment of gratitude for simply making it through a historic storm.
"Even with everything we've been through," Klentzman said, "we're still the lucky ones."
As the winter weather in Austin escalates to record-breaking lows, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, or AUS, is experiencing significant flight cancellations in the upcoming week.
In a press release, AUS advised travelers to confirm flight statuses with their airline before heading over to the airport within the next 48 hours. If a flight is confirmed, the statement urged people to consider the winter warnings and travel to the airport with extreme caution.
Due to the extreme conditions, AUS has made operation updates to the airport, including the closure of one of the two security checkpoints and modified access in and out of the Blue Garage.
Although the airport remains open, Austinites are reminded to stay off the roads whenever possible. Dozens of wrecks have occurred due to ice on the roads since the winter storm came in.
Roadways surrounding the airport have either been reported closed or with ice. If you or a loved one has a flight to catch, passengers are encouraged to check DriveTexas.org for road conditions.
Austin is taking its place on the luxury fashion runway as pristine handbag brand—that can cost more than a house for one bag—becomes a permanent member of the city.
Parisian fashion house Hermès has signed a 7,600 square-foot lease in new multi-use development Music Lane on South Congress to open its first permanent store in Austin as more high profile celebrities and high-earning business executives move to Austin in a major tech-boom, increasing the demand for high-end retailers.
The designer, considered by many to be the pinnacle of status, is best known for its precisely constructed leather handbags and intricately designed scarves. The renowned fashion house has been worn by the likes of Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, and even the Kardashians.
The Birkin bag is arguably the designer's most popular design, often running anywhere from $9,000 to half a million dollars. With such astronomical prices, and Zillow reporting in December that the median cost of a home in the city is around $450,000, it would be rather easy for someone's shopping haul at Hermes to cost upward the price of a home.
As one of the final tenants to sign a lease in Music Lane, Hermès will join Nike and Alo Yoga, which also recently signed leases as part of the $55 million development's third phase.
In December, Music Lane's developer, Andrew Joblon, told The Wall Street Journal that he saw an escalating need for high-end luxury brands in Austin, where more well-paid executives and celebrities seem to be flocking.
This is not the first time the iconic retailer has made its way to Austin. During South by Southwest in 2019, Hermès opened a pop-up shop on South Congress Avenue where visitors could purchase scarves. And a month later that same year, Robert Chavez, Hermès USA president and CEO, told The Wall Street Journal the company was looking for a space in the city.
With the opening of a new store in Austin, the city is poised to become one of the elite. Hermès has less than 40 other stores in the entire U.S., including in Texas, and only 311 stores worldwide.