Texans urged to roll up their sleeves

by | Dec 31, 2020 | Opinion

Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas leaders are rolling up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to encourage the public to follow suit.

“I will never ask any Texan to do something that I’m not willing to do myself,” Abbott said before getting vaccinated at a televised event in Austin.

The next round of vaccines will go to people 65 and older and to those who are at greatest risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19. More than 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Texas have occurred in people 65 or older, Texas Department of State Health Services offi­cials said in announcing the updated priority list.

“The focus on people who are age 65 and older or who have comorbidities will protect the most vulnerable popula­tions,” said Imelda Garcia, Ex­pert Vaccine Allocation Panel chairwoman. “This approach ensures that Texans at the most severe risk from COVID-19 can be protected across races and ethnicities and regardless of where they work.”

The state is in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, which in­cludes residents of long-term care centers and front-line health care workers. With an estimated 1.9 million Texans in those groups, it will likely be at least two weeks people in Phase 1B can get the vaccine.

The Phase 1B priorities are below, and additional informa­tion is available at dshs.texas.gov:

  • People 65 years of age and older
  • People 16 years of age and older with at least one chron­ic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for se­vere illness from the virus that causes COVID-19, such as but not limited to cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic ob­structive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; solid organ transplantation, severe obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and type 2 diabetes.

Capitol to reopen

Closed since March, the Texas Capitol will reopen Jan. 4, about a week before the 87th Legislature convenes.

In announcing the reopen­ing, Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Pat­rick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said safety protocols have been put in place to main­tain a safe environment for all visitors, lawmakers and staff.

“Preparations to safely con­duct business in the Texas House and Senate are ongoing, and each chamber will vote upon their respective rules and protocols at the start of the leg­islative session,” the officials said in a statement.

The session opens at noon Jan. 12.

Also last week, Austin and Travis County officials, alarmed by a spike in cas­es, raised the community’s COVID-19 risk warning to its highest level since the pandem­ic began. Under the Stage 5 risk warning, the local officials are asking people not to gath­er with anyone outside their household and to limit their trips outside homes to essential ones such as going to the gro­cery store or work.

Dr. Mark Escott, Aus­tin-Travis County interim health authority, said the Stage 5 warning was necessary even though the hospital system in Austin remained stable.

“When you see smoke, are you fully alarmed and call the fire department, or do you wait until the flames roll down the hallway?” he told KXAN-TV. “What we’ve learned over and over again … if you wait to pull the alarm until the hospitals are full, that surge will contin­ue until the hospitals, and the morgues, are overwhelmed.”

State vs. local CARES money

The state of Texas is not liv­ing up to its promise of allo­cating federal pandemic relief funds to local governments, an advocacy group contends.

After Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act in March, Gov. Abbott said $1.85 billion of the fund­ing Texas received would go toward supporting local gov­ernments. However, advocacy group Texas Housers said its analysis shows the state has not delivered.

The local governments are supposed to apply through a reimbursement process admin­istered by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, ac­cording to a May 11 letter from the governor.

“Since the letter, TDEM has stymied local governments at every turn,” Houser officials said in a statement. “Although the process should have been a clean handoff of resources spe­cifically earmarked for cities and counties, money has been complicated for local govern­ments to access and has flowed slowly or not at all.”

A Texas emergency manage­ment official has said the larg­est barrier to reimbursement has been local governments not submitting the correct documents. Also, some of the CARES money has been spent on state projects that benefit cities and counties.

By Chris Cobler, board member and past president of the Freedom of In­formation Foundation of Texas • [email protected]

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