Austin, Texas – Following more than a week of severe winter weather that resulted in suspended operations at testing and vaccination sites, as well as limited staffing for data entry and case investigations, Austin Public Health (APH) resumed COVID-19 operations today, Feb. 21.
"Our whole community was impacted by this week's weather events, including staff and their families," said APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard. "We will have to simultaneously recover at home while putting in longer hours at work to regain the ground that was lost. I am humbled to work with such a dedicated team to get us over the finish line despite the setbacks."
APH personnel joined with City and County departments in the emergency weather response while concurrently planning for the impending mass vaccine distribution needed to catch up.
"It will require an immense amount of staff time, work, and effort to resume all of our operations to the full capacity and efficiency that we were seeing before the weather hit," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority. "We appreciate the community's understanding and patience as we work through any bumps along the way."
Rescheduling for vaccine appointments is underway for the estimated 3,300 patients who had appointments canceled starting on Feb. 13. If you had an appointment, please check your phone and email frequently for updates. Phone banks were also affected by power outages and will be back online to call those without internet access. There are plans for a queuing system, but at the moment to address the backlog, staff will manually schedule each person and provide them with a time, date and location.
Operations safely resumed on Sunday, Feb. 21, and will expand back to additional sites throughout the week. APH will also extend hours to serve as many people as possible with the vaccine APH has been allocated. APH has approximately 7,000 first doses and 7,500 second doses remaining from the Feb. 7 state allocation before the winter storm. The City and County will be providing additional resources to get these vaccines out as soon as possible.
Additionally, APH received 12,000 second doses from the state for the week of Feb. 14.
"We have already provided 55,000 doses and were in the midst of scaling up operations for second doses when the winter storm hit," said Cassandra DeLeon, Chief Administrative Officer for the APH Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division. "We lost eight days of operations, but we are fully dedicated to those who need their second doses and are scaling up resources as much as possible to provide all remaining vaccine this week."
Leading up to the winter storm, APH was testing 10,000 people a week. All APH-affiliated testing operations will resume their normal schedules on Monday, Feb. 22. To schedule a test through APH, visit www.austintexas.gov/covid-testinfo.
Neighborhood testing, which allows for some walk-ups, is available at the following locations:
- Ana Lark Center (1400 Tillery St.): Tuesdays and Fridays 2-7 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Southeast Branch Library (5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd.): Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays 8 a.m.-1 p.m., and Wednesdays 3-7 p.m.
If you have been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and were unable to get a test due to the weather conditions, continue to self-isolate for at least 10 days since symptom onset and at least 1 day following the resolution of fever and improvement of other symptoms.
Data reporting efforts, which help to feed our public COVID-19 dashboards, will also resume. Data entry staff could not safely travel to the location to provide data input this week causing a delay in getting the data entered. The data entry location was also out of power.
Due to the lack of testing that has been able to happen over the past week and a lag in data reporting, the data that is publicly reported over the coming week may be skewed.
"We know that there may be a high demand for testing once our sites can reopen and data will show that not a lot of people were tested over the past week," said APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette. "When staff can safely return, they will continue their reporting. They will have to work overtime to eliminate the backlog but they are dedicated to giving the public the data they need to make proper decisions for themselves and their loved ones."