AUSTIN, Texas - Friday marked a milestone in the local COVID-19 response.
On Feb. 5, 2020, Austin Public Health activated the Department Operations Center with the intention of monitoring travelers coming into the area for any signs of what was then a mysterious respiratory illness.
About a week later, on Feb. 11, the World Health Organization gave the virus a name: COVID-19.
"When you look back it feels like it’s been a decade since this point last year," said Dr. David Fleeger, an Austin surgeon who was the president of the Texas Medical Association at the time. "This time a year ago I was standing behind the governor and I had no mask."
Dr. Fleeger has served on committees related to COVID-19 response and represented Texas physicians while working with the state on its COVID-19 response. His efforts helped result in millions of N95 masks from the state being distributed to physicians across Texas so that they could treat patients safely.
"These are things we prepare for, but at the same time we weren't entirely prepared, said Dr. Fleeger. "Our public health system had really been underfunded for many years, and we certainly lacked the PPE that we needed."
Dr. Fleeger said they had to learn a lot as they went, "using science as [their] guide."
"The more we learned, the better we could take care of these patients, the better our survival and, ultimately, along came the vaccine, which has been phenomenal," he said.
Meanwhile, APH staff were working hard to get the virus under control as well. About a month after the health department launched the Operations Center, the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Austin, a man in his 60s and a female in her 30s.
As of Friday, APH staff had dedicated 412,470 hours to the COVID-19 response. Some of those hours were spent distributing 39,650 vaccinations, administering 153,571 COVID-19 tests, and translating 1,910 documents and graphics.
"It has been a difficult year for all of us," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority, in an APH update on Friday. "We have to continue to work together over the next six months or so, so we can move towards more normalcy for our community."