APH officials reflect on year in final virtual briefing

Austin Public Health gave its final virtual COVID-19 media briefing Friday, noting their reliance on antiquated technology to track pandemic data.

"We were using technology that was 19th-century technology," chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette said. "We were using paper and pencil when we should have been using sophisticated things, and we were building an airplane as we flew it."

Health officials doubled down on the lack of modernized technology. Pichette added, "we still receive multiple laboratory reports via fax machine."

Officials noted the outdated technology is not just a local issue.

"We’re a part of a larger statewide public health system and national public health system," chief administrative officer Cassandra DeLeon said. "There’s infrastructure gaps that are all along that continuum."

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To fill the gaps DeLeon mentioned Austin Public Health leaders are looking to President Biden's American Rescue Plan. It would give $3.4B to state and local health departments.

"Public health is there always but the systems haven’t been fortified to the level that when a pandemic like this hits there are some gaps," DeLeon said. "This was an important opportunity to identify where those gaps are at all of those different levels in the public health system."

While the technology did not align with the 21st century, officials reflected on their work with optimism.

"I would give us a 'B,' DeLeon said. "I think the effort was 'A.' I think the willingness to respond to challenge was an 'A.' I think we had some resource and technology haps that affected our ability, our efforts to match our intentions and our drive."

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