Severe weather could force Austin Public Health to cancel COVID vaccine appointments
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If you are scheduled to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses through Austin Public Health over the next few days, you might have your appointment canceled because of the extreme cold that has gripped Central Texas, health officials said Friday.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, and Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said Friday they are closely monitoring weather conditions and, if appointments need to be canceled because of dangerous road conditions or extreme cold, residents would be notified by email, text and phone calls ahead of their appointment.
Those individuals would then have a chance to reschedule their appointments for next week, according to Hayden-Howard.
"We ultimately want everyone to remain safe," Hayden-Howard said. "In the event an individual decides they will not be able to make their appointment, they can just reach out to us and let us know and we can reschedule them."
Austin Public Health officials in a written statement Friday said if the agency does have to cancel appointments, no vaccines will go to waste. Instead, they will be used for patients next week.
Health officials plan to unfreeze doses right before someone's scheduled appointment in the coming days to ensure it will be used, Austin Public Health officials said.
Residents who do have vaccine appointments this weekend are instructed to wear plenty of clothing to stay warm during the 15 to 20 minutes they are expected to wait outside if appointments are not canceled, Austin Public Health leaders said.
Health officials said patients need to wait inside their vehicles until right before their scheduled appointment to avoid standing outside longer than necessary.
Austin Public Health staff also will help those with mobility needs this weekend by allowing them to wait inside right before their scheduled appointments.
In addition to possible vaccination cancellations, several of Austin Public Health's coronavirus testing sites were closed Friday because of the bad weather.
Austin-area residents can check the Austin Public Health website for live updates to better track when those testing locations reopen.
In Hays County, second-dose appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday are being moved to Wednesday but will still be administered at San Marcos High School. Appointments will be at the same time as they would have been on Monday. The next first-dose clinic will be Tuesday and Wednesday in Dripping Springs. Appointments are expected to open soon, county officials said.
Freezing rain that pushed into Central Texas on Thursday made local roads dangerously icy, which caused several crashes throughout Travis County. As of Friday morning, thousands in Central Texas were still without electricity as accumulations of ice broke tree branches and damaged power lines.
The dangerous winter conditions are expected to continue throughout the weekend and into early next week, with even the possibility of snow Sunday into Monday.
Austin Public Health is currently focusing vaccination efforts on the oldest of Austin-Travis County's residents, who might not be able to wait in long lines outdoors for a vaccination as they have in weeks past.
Hayden-Howard said her staff will closely monitor weather conditions and make moment-by-moment decisions regarding the safety of appointments from Friday through Tuesday.
Austin Public Health officials are currently working to distribute the remaining 12,000 first doses and 12,000 second doses it received from the state earlier in the week.
Local coronavirus hospitalizations continue to decline, a welcome trend that leaves health care workers with more flexibility to respond to any possible emergencies linked to the cold weather, Escott said Friday.
As of Friday, Travis County reported about 3,500 active COVID-19 cases — nearly half the number of active cases reported just a month ago.
However, residents need to continue to be cautious and avoid large gatherings during the freezing weekend as new variants of the coronavirus disease show up in larger numbers across Texas, he said.
On Friday, health officials said 44 cases of the United Kingdom variant have been identified in the state, including in Travis County.
Escott on Friday said if the coronavirus becomes a seasonal disease like the common flu, health officials would need to develop unique vaccines to help fight the most dominant strains of the virus each year.