Year in Review

Year two of the COVID-19 response ushered in new challenges, but also new hope in the form of  vaccines. The Austin/Travis County Emergency Operation Center remained activated to support the COVID response and Austin Public Health (APH) continued leading the response. This year, Austin-Travis County experienced two significant COVID-19 surges.  The first surge occurred at the end of December 2020 and continued until March 2021. Despite efforts to quickly vaccinate the public, the Delta variant emerged, causing a second surge to begin in July 2021 and continued until December 2021.  Since Jan. 1, the Austin/Travis County area reported 122,277 confirmed COVID-19 cases, an increase of 139% and 635 deaths 115% increase over the previous year. With vaccine and testing widely available later this year, the City was able to safely bring back events, return to work and school for the first time since the pandemic began and adjusted safety protocols during surging. The City supported safe re-openings by reviewing over 200 Health and Safety plans for Austin permitted events, Environmental Health mask compliance inspections and reviewing return-to work safety plans for all City departments.
COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard
Vaccines and Treatments.  The FDA approved the COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use by the general public over the age of 16 at the end of 2020.  In January 2021, the state designated APH as a hub provider which required the department to administer the majority of the local vaccine supply to anyone eligible regardless of income, state residency, etc. Vaccines were approved for individuals 12 years and older in May 2021, and starting in November 2021, vaccines became available to children five years of age and older. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control recommended individuals receive booster shots after six months from being fully vaccinated and the Federal Drug Administration authorized use of a monoclonal antibody regimen to treat patients suffering from COVID. 
Austin Public Health (APH) used data-driven approaches to guide and implement strategies that increased testing and vaccine operations while improving outreach efforts. APH implemented a successful vaccine strategy that mobilized Travis County and local vaccine providers to fully vaccinate more than 815,358 (68%) eligible Travis County residents. Early successes with pediatric vaccinations and expanded booster shots campaigns are also currently underway. Key highlights of the response to date include: 
  • Since the pediatric vaccine became available November 2021, 68% of Austin/Travis County residents over the age of 5 are fully vaccinated; 77% have received one dose.
  • On October 26, before the pediatric vaccine became available, 73% of Austin/Travis County residents over the age of 12 fully vaccinated; 82% received one dose. 
  • APH administered a total of 355,607 vaccine doses since vaccines became available on Dec. 18, 2020 through mass clinics, pop-up and mobile clinics, home visits, and traditional APH immunization clinics.
  • Provided over 69,000 COVID-19 tests through various testing operations including community test sites, facilities, and homebound testing services.
  • Austin/Travis County Regional Infusion Center provided 3,957 infusions of the monoclonal antibody treatment to treat COVID-19 infections and prevent over-extending the local hospital system stretched to capacity.
COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center
COVID-19 community outreach
Outreach, Education, and Resources. In addition to a massive vaccine and testing initiative, APH dedicated significant staff expertise and resources to:
  • Inform and educate, using data analytics and key indicator metrics for public dashboards.
  • Prevent the spread of COVID-19 through disease surveillance and case investigation.
  • Inform and educate through public appearances, press releases, media interviews and social media.
  • Perform outreach and education through trusted sources including certified Community Health Worker (CHW) and neighborhood partners, and partnerships with community-based organizations.
  • Provide free guidance, scheduling and information through free public Nurse and Health Equity telephone lines for parents, school and childcare workers, businesses, and the general public.
  • Provide trusted, consistent guidance, resources, and support to childcare facilities, schools, and camps.
  • Monitor the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths to better inform community-wide prevention and staging recommendations.
  • Administer COVID-19 relief funds to assist communities in need.
  • Distribute PPE/health and safety supplies to individuals, families and organizations.
APH focused on improving transparency and equity in public information on COVID-19 by making this information available in multiple languages. The effort leveraged community partnerships and social media to help communicate directly using email (20,000 subscribers), Twitter (23,000 followers) and Facebook (40,000 followers), local radio stations, news outlets and the APH website. Two town hall meetings titled, “Moving Forward with COVID-19”, captured public input in seven different languages to inform and improve vaccination processes. 
Our work is not done. New treatments, the development of variants, and improvements to vaccines continue to influence our response to COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, APH learns more about the virus and relies on data to guide our response. In fact, new data indicates that the Community Transmission Rate (CTR) may be able to serve as an advanced warning sign, informing the public to take precautions that will help avoid another surge and buy us time to get more of our community vaccinated.