Five data tools help us understand COVID-19’s impact on Waco

By Emily Hunt-Hinojosa

In the wake of COVID-19, everyone wants to know what the data says. Numbers and stories can reveal the facts of a situation and help us to better understand it. Making use of data is a process — first, finding data, then understanding, then guided responses.

The hunt for data and facts is really a quest for truth-finding. At its best, meaningful data can lead us to real awareness of a given situation, which can help governments, health organizations, businesses,nonprofits, and people plan for the days ahead.

Leaders need precise data, accurate data, data that can help us understand for whom COVID-19 is a problem and for whom it is less of a problem. Who is getting sick? Who is dying? Who is losing their jobs? Who isn’t losing their job? Who wears a mask? Who doesn’t? Why in the world not? Where should I put resources? Who is fine? Who is not fine? Why is this happening to us?

Answers to these good questions are not easy to discover. The yearning for data speaks to a larger issue. When we are truly honest, we aren’t quite sure what to do in this current moment; we have never lived through this before. However, our efforts do not have to be just a shot in the dark. We can make informed decisions to the best of our ability. 

In addition to, here are five data tracking tools/websites that can enhance our understanding of the effect of COVID-19 on our Waco community. 

  1. City Health Dashboard COVID Local Risk Index

The COVID Local Risk Index can help us understand where in the community the risk for COVID infection and illness severity may be concentrated. The purpose of this index is to estimate which parts of the community may need the most support as coronavirus cases increase, focusing on neighborhoods as a way of gaining key insight for policy. The estimate of risk is based on socioeconomic and demographic factors as well as underlying COVID-related issues and outcomes in the community. Waco scores a 9 out of 10 for local risk. Data is available for the city and census tracts, as well.

  1. COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index

Surgo Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI) combines the CDC’s social vulnerability index with additional data for a total of six themes and 34 variables. The CCVI can help us consider what factors are contributing to vulnerability for a given community/neighborhood in McLennan County. Data is available for the county and census tracts.

  1. Texas 2036 COVID-19 Tracking Dashboard

Texas 2036 has a dashboard to find out about COVID’s impact across Texas. The focus is mostly on economic and health data, including unemployment filings, and mobility trends. Data is available at the county level.

  1. COVID-19 Demographic and Economic Resources. 

The Census Bureau has two noteworthy resources: First, the COVID-19 Impact Report available for McLennan County. This report contains a variety of quick facts such as basic demographic information, who has and doesn’t have health insurance, and what percentage of county residents have access to the Internet.  Secondly, the Census has created a measure for Community Resilience to estimate how resilient a given community is after experiencing disasters — including pandemics. The Community Resilience Estimates are available for census tracts throughout our county. 

  1. Waco RoundTable is Prosper Waco’s newly launched Community Data Platform for Waco. Over 100 quantitative indicators have been mapped across various community geographies to highlight pressing issues in our community. To explore COVID-related data, under Topics, click COVID-19, choose an Indicator, and choose a Geography. You can also add to this site by entering data on your organization, business or nonprofit as a profile on Waco RoundTable.

If you have questions about any of these sources or know of other sources we should be considering, contact

Emily Hunt-Hinojosa is director of research and community impact at Prosper Waco. She is responsible for evaluating progress toward community goals in the areas of education, health, and financial security. Dr. Hunt-Hinojosa holds an Associate Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, where she was employed prior to joining Prosper Waco. She holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Department of Sociology at Baylor University, as well as both a master’s in higher education and student Affairs and a bachelor’s in social studies education from Taylor University.

Transformation Waco: Encuesta de reapertura de escuelas


Mientras planeamos reabrir nuestras escuelas el próximo mes, queremos saber de usted. Le pedimos que tome unos minutos para completar nuestra Encuesta de reapertura de escuelas. Sus comentarios son importantes para nosotros para que podamos satisfacer mejor las necesidades de usted y su familia en el año escolar 2020-21. Puedes hacer clic en el siguiente enlace para la escuela de su hijo.

●  Alta Vista Elementary School

●  Brook Avenue Elementary School

●  G.W. Carver Middle School

●  Indian Spring Middle School

●  J.H. Hines Elementary School


Robin McDurham

Chief Executive Officer

Transformation Waco

Transformation Waco parent survey


As we plan for reopening our schools next month, we want to hear from you. We ask that you take a few minutes to complete our School Reopening Survey. Your feedback is important to us so we can best meet the needs of you and your family in the 2020-21 school year. Please click on the name of your child’s school to start the survey.

●  Alta Vista Elementary School

●  Brook Avenue Elementary School

●  G.W. Carver Middle School

●  Indian Spring Middle School

●  J.H. Hines Elementary School

Thank you,

Robin McDurham

Chief Executive Officer

Transformation Waco

Waco ISD selects new elementary principals for Provident Heights and Parkdale


A pair of familiar Waco ISD campus leaders have been selected as the district’s newest elementary principals. Provident Heights Elementary Assistant Principal Courtney Whitaker will transition to her new role at that campus, while Cesar Chavez Middle School Assistant Principal Lena Ortiz will join Parkdale Elementary.

Courtney Whitaker

Whitaker has been with Waco ISD for six years, starting at Provident Heights as an instructional specialist. Before coming to Waco, she spent six years as an elementary school teacher in Carrollton/Farmers Branch ISD. She has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in education from Texas Woman’s University, where she also minored in special education. Whitaker is taking over leadership from Debbie Sims, who is retiring after 38 years in the district.

“I am both excited and honored to be the new principal of Provident Heights Elementary,” Whitaker said. “This year, we will carry on the tradition of pursuing academic excellence and establishing a growth mindset for all students. I look forward to continuing to build relationships with parents, staff and students.” 

Lena Ortiz

Ortiz is a 12-year educator with experience as a classroom teacher and instructional specialist at Kendrick Elementary, where she was selected as the school’s teacher of the year for 2011–2012. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and a master’s of educational administration from Tarleton State University, where she is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership. Ortiz is succeeding principal Marsha Henry, who recently retired after serving 15 years as principal at Parkdale.

“It is a privilege to have been selected as the new Parkdale principal,” Ortiz said. “I am excited for the opportunity to join WISD instructional leaders in the pursuit of educational excellence for all students. I look forward to building new relationships and collaborating with students, staff and parents to build and enhance Parkdale’s success.”

Waco ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon said, “Courtney and Lena bring a wealth of campus leadership experience to their new roles as elementary principals for our district. . . . I’m thrilled for them and know they’re ready to get to work with their campus teams and continue building important relationships.”

What does our community want and need from a police chief?

By Jo Welter, on behalf of the Community Race Relations Coalition

In response to the request for community input regarding the choice of a new police chief for Waco, the board of the Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC) offers the following. 

We are grateful to live in a city with courageous leaders who have decided to begin again with the search for a new police chief after considering input from some in the community.  This was a difficult and wise decision and we commend them for this and for now asking for wider input from Waco citizens.

In a July 1 Waco Trib piece by reporter Kristin Hoppa, Waco Police Detective Ken Reeves was quoted as saying, “I think we just want to find the right chief that will be there for our officers.”

In a June 6 guest column in the Waco Trib, attorney Mark Osler wrote, “The great challenge going forward is the same as it has been for decades: to create a police force that truly protects and serves all of the people.” 

Our first suggestion is that we go with Osler’s suggestion and look for someone who will serve and protect everyone – officers and citizens as well.

We would love to see a chief who is a person of color or a woman, with no regard for religion or gender preference. It is important for us all to see people from groups that are underrepresented in positions of authority and importance, and this will serve us in many ways.  The other qualities we would like to see considered in looking for a new chief include:

  • Truthfulness and openness, including indications that he/she would give thoughtful consideration to all possibilities in any situation
  • A genuine interest in improving equity and creating justice for all citizens in our community
  • An understanding of what Black Lives Matter really means
  • An interest and commitment to learning and promoting de-escalation techniques in interaction for use between officers and citizens
  • A striving to do what is morally right, standing up against political interests and police union and civil service issues when called for
  • An attitude of compassion and understanding toward the citizens they serve and protect, treating citizens as allies, not as “others”
  • Openness to ideas like a citizens’ board to oversee disciplinary decisions
  • Positive attitude toward cultural sensitivity learning for officers and for youth involved in police programs

We believe that specific policies against forms of restraint and treatment of offenders are certainly necessary. 

An issue that might be even more important here in Waco is the need to purposefully work to eliminate the “us against them” attitude that is so pervasive in our society, including between the police department and citizens.  This attitude has become so ingrained in us that we are often not even conscious of the ways in which it affects our behavior.  

We are drawing from a pool of candidates that, like all of us, is influenced by the “us against them” attitude. The police in many communities have circled the wagons around themselves in self-protection.  It makes it difficult to find the perfect new police chief for Waco. 

We support and appreciate these efforts in finding the right chief for Waco.  We look forward to the future here in our beloved Waco.    

Jo Welter has lived in the Waco area for 29 years and has been an active participant in the Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC) for 20+ years.  She currently serves as chair of the CRRC board.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

CCP: How a pandemic created an opportunity for community recovery

By Liya Scott

Remember the name “Texans Recovering Together” because you and I may need it. No matter where you live or who you work for, we are in this together.

The Crisis Counseling Program of Texans Recovering Together provides free, anonymous, and confidential support services to individuals and families coping with the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus. Yes, the pandemic — which was declared a national disaster in March — created an opportunity for this program. 

It is staffed by a team of Crisis Counselors who don’t keep case files (the anonymous and confidential part) and Community Liaisons who will meet with any person or group that needs short-term support during the disaster. Here’s how the disaster has affected my fellow staff.

Jonnell is one of four community liaisons. She told me about a distant family member who fell ill with the coronavirus prior to its big introduction to the United States. This family member ended up in a Waco hospital’s intensive care unit with little-to-no outside contact. She recovered and was released just in time for the Christmas holiday season. Six months later, Jonnell said, “Seeing her lie in the fetal position struggling to breathe, knowing now what she had, I now take it much more seriously.” 

Jamie is also a community liaison. She told me about her next-door neighbor in her Wisconsin hometown who was diagnosed with coronavirus. The man was experiencing flu-like symptoms for two weeks prior to the diagnosis — the results frightened her. “We could hear him cough through the walls of our house,” Jamie recalled. She added, “It feels like a circle creeping closer and closer around the people I love. I just wonder when it will close around me.”  

Alice is one of our counselors. She told me about a friend who recently lost her father to COVID-19. He was an elderly man who fit the “at risk” criteria. Although he is survived by five children, his children still express frustration regarding people who choose not to comply with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Gabby is also a counselor. Here’s what she shared about her niece who had a potential run-in with an asymptomatic carrier: “She’s like my kid! She’s also my babysitter,” Gabby said with a lump in her throat. Gabby explained how the family has had to deviate from their usual routine of hosting their niece for the summer. But this story has a happy ending: Gabby’s niece tested negative. While relieved to know their niece did not contract the virus, the family continues to practice safe measures, including wearing face masks in public. 

Then there’s my story. I’m Liya, one of the community liaisons. If there is one thing I have learned from this pandemic/disaster, it is to increase my empathy for others. 

I realize this thing is so much bigger than me. I do well to recognize the need to be my brother’s keeper and consider how my actions affect others. The little changes I adopt to slow the spread really do make a difference. I continue to avoid large crowds; I wear a mask to protect others and myself; and I decontaminate when I re-enter my home. I choose to do what I can.

This spring, I lost a family member to COVID-19. She was a mother, a sister, a wife, and a daughter. To me, she was also a friend. They say a thing does not become real until you have some skin in the game. Well, the death of my aunt gave me the wake-up call I needed. 

Another fellow colleague summarized: “If you think you are doing enough, do more. I don’t think people need to lose a loved one in order to wake up to this message.”

I’ve heard this phrase tossed around town: “We are all bound to contract the virus at some time or another.” Maybe so, but I don’t believe all of us will survive. 

That’s why I’m here. #TexansRecoveringTogether can help with accessible, caring and responsive support services for anyone who’s struggling to cope with the effects of this pandemic. We’re only a phone call away.

Liya Scott is a Community Liaison / Linkage Coordinator with the Crisis Counseling Program. She is a Colorado native but calls Waco home. A graduate of Baylor University, Liya thoroughly enjoys the meaningful work she is able to do with the Texans Recovering Together CCP. In her spare time, Liya enjoys creative cookery, hiking the trails, browsing the local Farmer’s Market, and trying out amazing local cuisine.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.