COVID-19 herd immunity still a while away, says Austin Public Health

Due to a disastrous winter storm, Austin may have forgotten about COVID-19, but COVID-19 hasn't forgotten about us.

"COVID-19 has proven to be a challenging foe. We've seen two and in some places three surges of this virus. This should keep us from getting too complacent," said Dr. Jason Pickett, alternate health authority at Austin Public Health.

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Last week's winter storm slowed down operations for Austin Public Health.

"Testing operations, even receipt of laboratory reports from testing across the city and state health department kind of ceased during that time period," said chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette.

Now, the city is playing the catch-up game, logging data and doing some contact tracing.


"We had staff that didn’t have power, didn’t have water, didn’t have access to the internet, that were going out to their cars charging their laptop computers so we could continue to respond to the weather crisis as well as continue to plan for vaccine operations," said APH director Stephanie Hayden-Howard.

They believe the warming shelters also could have been a petri dish for the virus. "We most likely would anticipate seeing upticks in the next week. So we are going to be looking very closely at that," said Pichette.

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With things slowly getting back to normal post-winter storm, APH warns another COVID-19 surge is possible. "We are seeing resurgence of COVID-19 in areas that have already had high rates of infection," said Pickett. "These variants may lead to an increase in surges."


Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday, he is looking at rolling back the statewide mask mandate. Austin Public Health does not agree with this. "We are nowhere near herd immunity right now. It is not time to take off our masks," Pickett said.

Health officials said they administered 20,000 vaccines this week. Supply still is not lining up with demand, but the city is hoping to hear good news about another vaccine that could hit the market soon.

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"We’re very excited because Johnson and Johnson, their vaccine is going to the committee for review today and if approved by the FDA which is expected, this will give us another vaccine and another 100 million doses," said Pickett.