That necessity breeds invention is never more true than in today's world, with regular Joes and Janes inventing creative measures to help their neighbors navigate the state's COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. And the results have been nothing short of "heavenly."
Tarrytown resident Barbara Ritchie placed her name on five different COVID-19 vaccine lists. She qualifies for phase 1B—older individuals and those with chronic health conditions—in the vaccine distribution effort as designated by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Group 1A consists of first responders and healthcare workers.
As with many other Austinites seeking a vaccine within the state's inadequate supply, Ritchie became frustrated searching for a time slot to get the vaccine, hitting "refresh" and "next" on websites for an hour and a half, with no luck. While on her community's Nextdoor site, she found someone who helped her get a vaccine jab earlier this month. But she noticed numerous Nextdoor members asking for help to navigate the vaccine application process while others offered advice, a system she called "disorganized" and "haphazard." Ritchie was determined to find a more efficient way.
"I thought, 'Here are people who need help and here are people who are willing to help, why not try to put together a list of (those) people?'" she said.
Barbara Ritchie coined the name "Scheduling Angels" after being helped by someone to schedule a vaccine appointment. (Barbara Ritchie)
A former IT project manager, Ritchie coordinated a database of contact information for community members who needed assistance finding a vaccine appointment as well as those offering to help, focusing on West Austin and Travis County neighborhoods including Rollingwood, West Lake Hills, Lost Creek, Tarrytown, Pemberton Heights and Balcones.
"The woman who helped me, when she got the appointment, I said to her, 'You are such an angel,'" she recalled. "That's how I felt. I started calling (the helpers) Scheduling Angels. Now everybody calls them that."
On Feb. 5, Ritchie posted the list on Nextdoor, along with three simple rules for communication, nearly tripling the number of "angels" on the list in less than a week. This week, she has up to 40 angels on her list.
"Some of them have children at home and jobs, they have lives, but they still find time, even if it's one or two people, to help," she said of the group's volunteers. "They do it out of the goodness of their heart."
With the program up and running—Nextdoor/General/Update-SchedulingAngels—Ritchie receives about 100 emails per day. Although she's online to respond to questions and provide updates, she leaves the scheduling up to the "angels."
"Unfortunately, because there's so much more demand than there are people available to help, schedules are filling up fast," Ritchie said. "Still, it's clear that there's a need for this kind of help for people and, particularly, for people over 70 (years old) because they didn't grow up with technology."
As with Ritchie, Rosedale residents Jim Robinson, 74, and his wife, Lana Norwood, 68, were among many Austinites who are frustrated trying to find COVID-19 vaccine openings in Central Texas's limited supply.
The couple took to social media and one of several Nextdoor sites seeking help on access to a shot. The method proved successful, with Robinson hastily hopping on his computer once news of a vaccine clinic posted. Both have now received their vaccines.
"Because of (the) post, we were able to get to the computer quick enough to get a couple of appointments," Robinson said. "I've seen a block of appointments go within 20 or 30 minutes. If a post is 30 or 40 minutes old, you might as well forget it."
Nextdoor has been outlet for vaccine news and helpers in the midst of a rocky rollout.
South Austin resident Raji Parameswaran said she's voluntarily spent the past few weeks helping others get vaccine appointments. Her "clients" have ranged from a local college professor to a retired judge who performs drive-through wedding ceremonies. She established six 200-member WhatsApp groups to disseminate news of vaccine openings and created vaccine hub accounts for seniors, sometimes making appointments for them.
"This has become my day job," Parameswaran said. A consultant by trade, she said that work has fallen by the wayside in light of the 10-12 hours per day she spends helping others get access to what could be lifesaving measures.
After assisting her elderly mother and father get their vaccines, she spread word of her success to friends who had parents in town, inundating her with others also hoping to nab a spot. Parameswaran's calendar soon filled up—solely by word of mouth—and she enlisted a few "amazing" friends to join her team to help, Parameswaran said.
"They feel very alone, very scared and anxious," she said of the seniors she helps. "All of these people, they're just delightful people. Everyone has a story."
As the proprietor of a company involved in ticketing concerts and large scale events put on hold during the pandemic, Bee Cave's Kendra Wright turned to her software and organizational skills to create a COVID-19 vaccine resource spreadsheet and 1,000-person email list. She updates those tools as she tracks changes in the distribution process. Like Parameswaran, she uses WhatsApp to communicate vaccine availability in real time.
"It's just one of the more rewarding things I've ever done in my life," Wright said.
After her parents, one of whom lives in an assisted living facility, received COVID-19 vaccines last month, Wright said she felt a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders and "wanted everyone to feel this feeling." Initially, she reached out to help seven acquaintances who qualified for the vaccine, researching the best route to find shots for them. Then she assisted 11 more applicants. Soon, she was texting with numerous vaccine groups at a time and currently has about 40 volunteers on board, none of whom Wright met prior to the endeavor.
"It just got so big so fast," Wright said. "It's gone viral and we've helped now thousands of people get vaccines."
She's instituted a "100 Club" within her network to acknowledge volunteers who have found at least 100 vaccines for individuals, adding that its membership includes "quite a few people."
Although the program began in the West Austin suburbs, through her volunteers, Wright has reached out to East Austin schools and churches to assist vulnerable communities. The most affected ZIP codes of COVID-19 have been on or straddle the east side of town, and residents may lack a computer to access online registration systems or the time to do so.
"I'm trying to give people hope," Wright said. "I'm trying to help them sort out the complexities of finding a vaccine."
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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges—second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter—in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose final moments were recorded by onlookers, sparking a global protest movement over police violence and racial injustice. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for 10 hours over two days after an intense, three-week trial before reaching a verdict Tuesday afternoon, four days shy of the first anniversary of the Austin police killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed, 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man whose name became a rallying cry—along with Floyd's—for Austin protestors, who marched en masse last summer, prompting some police reforms.
Austin Police Department Officer Christopher Taylor was charged with first-degree murder—an unprecedented charge in Travis County—in the case of Ramos' death on March 10. But Warren Burkley, community outreach director for the Austin Justice Coalition, was measured in his response to the Chauvin verdict. "It's highly visible accountability, so it will give people hope in the system," he told Austonia. "But it's just one innocent life taken. And even in this city, this happens regularly, and it doesn't make national news."
Local elected officials, community leaders and residents also responded to the news as APD officers spent their second day on tactical alert, prepared to respond to any protests or demonstrations, and City Council heard recommendations from a task force on how to reimagine public safety.
Chauvin guilty on three charges!!!!
— Chas Moore (@iGiveYouMoore) April 20, 2021
Full justice would mean that George Floyd was still with us. But today's guilty verdict represents a historic step toward justice and for his family. So important now for the Senate to approve the House George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.https://t.co/9zUOgZYg4L
— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) April 20, 2021
For the first time we saw accountability in the courts for the murder of an innocent Black person.
Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on camera.
This prosecution is historic. People are feeling temporary relief. This is more than Justice, this is #AccountabilityforGeorgeFloyd. https://t.co/HlBqW7sScx
— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (@EddieforTexas) April 20, 2021
Many of us have been afraid for days that Derek Chauvin would be found not guilty, despite what the video so clearly showed in broad daylight. The guilty verdict today provides important accountability, but it does not provide real justice. (1/5) ⬇️
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder led to national protests and calls for the enactment of policing and social justice reforms, including here in Austin. We have made a commitment here to holding police officers accountable and to implementing social justice and policing reforms.
— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@MayorAdler) April 20, 2021
Derek Chauvin's conviction is only one step towards providing healing/justice for George Floyd's family + for our nation as a whole. It's up to us to honor Mr. Floyd + the many others lost to police violence by transforming public safety and making our communities safe for all. https://t.co/RVgQmcAf6I pic.twitter.com/hCHLibYjoy
— Council Member Alison Alter (@ALTERforATX) April 20, 2021
No person should be above the law. If you transgress the law you should be held accountability.
Derek Chauvin- GUILTY
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder heightened the long-overdue national conversation on systemic racism. Derek Chauvin has been found guilty, but this is just one step on a long road towards racial equity. We must enact significant systemic changes in order to achieve justice.
— Every Texan (@EveryTxn) April 20, 2021
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Californians love Texas, and Austin—with its liberal politics, relatively affordable housing and job opportunities—is particularly adored. In fact, the Lone Star State was the main recipient of departing Californians in 2019, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.
But other states, including Florida, are seeing increased interest. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has made a name for himself on Twitter recruiting techies and hyping up his city, which has a lot in common with Austin—with the added benefit of a beach and sans the "Don't California my Texas" attitude.
California expats and industry experts say Austin remains the bigger draw for Californians, especially those in the tech sector, but warn that this advantage could shift to Miami if the city doesn't address the policy challenges that prompted the migration in the first place: housing affordability.
"If Austin doesn't accommodate this influx, I think all the talent will come to Miami," said Peter Yared, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Miami from San Francisco in September. "I think Miami's going to be the one that sucks it all up."
Both Texas and Florida promise business-friendly state tax policies, and their governors tout the relocations of companies such as Tesla and Oracle from California. But Darien Shanske, a law professor at the University of California Davis whose specialties include taxation, said this is a red herring because corporate taxes are based on where sales occur rather than headquarter locations.
This is not to say other state policies are irrelevant. "The area in which California regulatory policy has been, in my opinion, not a complete failure but problematic … is housing policy," Shanske said. Austin and Miami can offer "not cheap, just cheaper" housing than what is available in Silicon Valley. Plus, both cities are developing a critical mass of talent, which further draws Californians in. "If you're a software engineer, you want to live near other software engineers," he added.
But not every Californian is motivated to move. "San Francisco is a fantastic place to live if you can afford it," said Brandy Aven, a professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. As a result, it's more common for what she called the labor—engineers, programmers and even company founders—to relocate to cities such as Austin and Miami than the monied venture capitalists. Burgeoning tech cities may find that they need to develop homegrown investor networks to support local ventures in the absence of Californian transplants, but she believes this is doable.
Paul O'Brien, CEO of the Austin-based MediaTech Ventures and a startup veteran, moved to Austin from California in 2009, during the Great Recession. "I'm a firm believer that the world has been seeking an alternative to Silicon Valley for a long time," he said, pointing to Austin as the natural heir for myriad reasons.
Austin has regional appeal as the epicenter of three of the country's largest cities—Houston, Dallas and San Antonio—and their respective industry niches. Tech entrepreneurs could cater to the local consumer goods industry or Houston's oil and gas sector. Plus the city has cultural appeal, thanks to the Red River District and South by Southwest, which made it attractive to job seekers. "The whole reason everyone moved to Silicon Valley is opportunity," O'Brien said. "The whole reason people are now looking beyond Silicon Valley to somewhere else is opportunity."
It's less clear what Miami's key industries are, O'Brien said, but the city offers other selling points, including the mayor's buy-in and "a tremendous depth of wealth" to support a technology and startup ecosystem.
Although Yared didn't consider moving to Austin, he is aware of its appeal to engineers, especially now that their hero, Elon Musk, has moved there, shunning California. "Austin has a lock on tech," he said, but Miami draws a different crowd, including financiers from New York. This parallel migration, coupled with the city's more outwardly pro-growth building policies, gives him hope that Miami could supplant Austin in the coming years. "In the end, communities get to choose what they want," he said.
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In the days after Austin FC's inaugural match against LAFC on Saturday, Head Coach Josh Wolff says he's watched the game "a number of times, to say the least."
In the match, Wolff and over 500,000 other viewers looked on as Austin FC took to the pitch for the first time, held their own in the first half against LAFC and eventually fell 2-0 to a team that's sometimes regarded as the best in the league.
Austin FC had the largest television audience of any soccer match in the U.S. over the weekend, surpassing even the USWNT. In a showcase of the club's dedicated fan base, dozens of Los Verdes fans were spotted in green and black around the stadium—even with the match limited to 20% capacity.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
While the team lost their first-ever match, they didn't make it as easy as some expected.
Wolff said that the team did relatively well offensively, holding possession for 48% of the match and keeping a solid passing game. Once they got to the box, however, Wolff said they could use some work on creating scoring opportunities.
"We saw a lot of good connections, good spacing (and) good speed of passing," Wolff said. "I think we can obviously have more presence centrally to have more numbers in between lines. I just want us to create more chances. There's a lot on both sides of the ball that we still need to work on."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Later on, however, the team gave up some goals and seemed to struggle with endurance. Wolff said the backline did "okay" and that the club, including young center back Jhohan Romana, are still getting conditioned to play a full match.
"It's a lot of information for a young player," Wolff said. "I think as he fatigues then the decision making, as with most players, becomes a little bit more cloudy and then thus the execution becomes cloudy."
An honor to represent this city and y'all. We're just getting started. 💚🖤 pic.twitter.com/tmOqCfbXvs
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) April 18, 2021
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
Going into the match, Stuver and fellow goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell were neck-and-neck, with both labeled potential starters. However, it was Stuver, who many thought signed as a backup, that wore the goalkeeper's jersey on the field for the first time.
"I think both Andrew and Brad did relatively well in preseason, but we decided with Brad just based on how we felt preseason went," Wolff said. "I thought he performed pretty well to be honest. I think he and Andrew are similar in some aspects... it's being mindful of where their strengths and weaknesses are."
Five starters made their MLS debut in the match, including midfielder Daniel Pereira and forward Rodney Redes. While Wolff said Pereira held his own in the match, he saw a weak spot in the team's right side, making it difficult for Redes to make offensive plays.
"For Pereira, I think it was a solid day for a young kid coming in his first MLS game against that opponent," Wolff said. "Obviously there's there's a different physicality to MLS and I think those are things that all these guys are going to acclimatize to.
Now, the club looks to put the ball in the back of the net for the first time as they head to Colorado. Austin FC will face the Colorado Rapids at 8 p.m.on Saturday. The match will stream on the Austin FC app and be broadcast on the CW Austin. Austonia will keep an eye out for potential weekend watch parties.
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