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Health Officials Urge Austinites To Get Tested For COVID If They Traveled Over Spring Break

People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine from Austin Public Health in January.
Julia Reihs
People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine from Austin Public Health in January.

About a quarter of adults in Travis County have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Austin area is seeing record-low numbers of coronavirus cases. But health officials were clear at a news conference Friday morning: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

There are at least two COVID-19 variants now spreading in Austin, and students and families are returning from spring break next week. Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health, said people who traveled over the break and were in places where social distancing and masking were not adhered to should quarantine and get tested.

“Please stay home next week, please get a test at the end of the week before you return to work or school,” he said. “That’s going to help limit the spread to other members of the community and help us to avoid a surge.”

The Austin area has seen a slight increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions over the last couple of days. Escott said that’s a reminder the community needs to keep following precautions: social distancing, masking and staying home when sick.

“If we can do that and we can maintain those protections over the next six weeks, our risk of a surge is going to dissipate very quickly as we approach May,” he said. “And God willing, we can have a more normal summer and fall ... if we can all continue to work together in the short term.”

Now in its third month of administering vaccines to the public, Austin Public Health is ramping up vaccination efforts — a process that’s been hindered by the fact the agency has been getting only 12,000 doses a week. APH is preparing to start up its first drive-thru vaccine distribution at Toney Burger Stadium on Saturday. It expects 1,500 first doses to be administered at the pilot event — by appointment only — but says the site has the capacity to serve 3,000 people per day.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said APH is also looking into setting up more vaccine distributions in neighborhoods around the city. That could include at recreational centers, churches or even apartment complexes.

“The large sites are great because we definitely need to get a large number of vaccine out to the public and ensure we are doing that in a short amount of time,” she said. “But we’ve heard from the public that there is a concern that we should have more locations that are in your neighborhood, one that you can easily access.”

The agency says it has the ability to vaccinate 37,000 people per week at all of its distribution sites combined; it just needs more vaccines. APH has been getting 12,000 first doses a week from the state — with the accompanying second doses coming four weeks later.

Hayden-Howard said APH has requested 12,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, but it hasn’t received any yet.

Escott said the overall supply of vaccines is not expected to change much in the next week, but beginning in April, APH has been told to expect a significant increase in allocation.

APH’s COVID-19 vaccine appointment scheduling system came under fire this week, after technical glitches Monday left many people frustrated and without an appointment. The agency made updates to the system and released appointments again Thursday evening.

Hayden-Howard said the registration worked “very well” Thursday and about 4,600 people were able to schedule appointments for Friday and Saturday.

“We are very confident in the changes that have been made,” she said. “We also know that as we move along and make other updates to our system, our goal is to make our system as user-friendly as we can.”

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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