Mayor’s opening remarks for Jan. 27 COVID-19 press conference

By Mayor Dillon Meek

I want to thank our hospital personnel and our health district and city staff members working around the clock while being caring and compassionate and undoubtedly exhausted. Thank you!

Our local hospital systems, our city staff, our county judge, and myself are in close, regular contact with one another as we discuss and monitor data regarding our hospital capacity and hospital personnel and monitor whether or not there will be a need for an alternative care site. To date, this still seems more improbable than probable. Our hospitals and our Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management have developed robust plans to keep our population safe should the number of hospital patients increase to a degree of serious alarm. 

Our local doctors continue to advise us of the seriousness of this virus, and I urge our community to also make wise decisions in the days ahead by following these doctors’ calls to wear masks in public, follow safe distancing protocol, and wash hands. Following this doctor-endorsed protocol makes this situation not fearful.

As a reminder, at the present time, Texas mayors and local governments have almost no policy-making authority. Gov. Abbot has implemented and has control of the regulations and mandates – from wearing masks to closures of bars to occupancy requirements. The governor has issued an order stating we cannot issue more restrictive orders than him. We have not heard any word from the governor’s office that this might change.

The Waco-McLennan County Emergency Operations Center is working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management and DOCS Health Testing to provide free COVID-19 testing to the community. When you register online, it does ask for your insurance information. You do not have to have insurance to receive a test. For people with insurance, there is no out-of-pocket cost or copay to get the test. Please go to COVIDwaco.com to register.

The Emergency Management Center previously received a refrigerated trailer to be used as a temporary morgue. This refrigerated truck is currently housing 19 remains.

Vaccinations

This is a time for hope! People in McLennan County are getting vaccinated and we celebrate that.

As a reminder, there are many local organizations giving vaccines; we call these “ vaccine providers” or just providers. A list of these providers is on COVIDwaco.com and includes CVS, HEB, Brookshire Brothers, Baylor Scott and White, Ascension Providence. One of these many providers is our  Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.  

Of these providers, two were selected by the state to serve as vaccination Hubs to get vaccinations quickly to all eligible 1A and 1B recipients, regardless of residence. These two hubs are the public health district and Ascension Providence. Hub sites get larger quantities of vaccines than other providers. This week, the public health district received approximately 1,500 doses and Providence received 1,950 doses.  

As a reminder, local government has no authority or control over any provider but does work to collaborate and partner with providers when they are able and willing.

Public Health District vaccination clinic

Yet again, staff was able to administer all doses without wasting any vaccine. Many vials even contained more than the average 10 doses per vial and staff made sure to utilize all of it — 1,618 people were vaccinated in the two-day clinic. I am so thankful for the care and effort our staff, partners, and volunteers put into every aspect of these events.

We have received another shipment of 1,500 doses and are hosting another vaccine clinic this week at the Waco Convention Center on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We were glad to be able to make a weekend clinic day available for those who are unable to make it in during the normal workweek.

We did not open a registration portal for appointments for this clinic. Staff worked from the waitlist to schedule appointments and reached out by email and by phone to the contact information provided in the waitlist. Staff is working diligently to make sure this is a fair and equitable process.

I acknowledge that many citizens have tried to register for the vaccine with us and were unsuccessful, and that this process has been frustrating for so many. The registration process was unable to accommodate the initial volume, but processes have improved, and the website will be continually updated to provide clarity. Be encouraged to continue to log on to the website, read updates in emails, and sign up for the public health district’s waiting list.  

If you did not get an appointment for this week’s clinic, please be patient. Demand continues to far outweigh supply and the Health District is still only receiving 1,500 doses per shipment. We will continue to get consistent shipments of vaccine allocations from the state, and we will continue to move through the waitlist and to host clinics. We are not scheduling appointments until the allocations have been physically received.

If you have signed up through any of the prior lists, you are on the waitlist. We did not throw out any of the previous lists or contact information.

Please, continue to encourage those you know who are eligible for a vaccine to get on the waitlist, or help them register if they are unable. Just make sure that the name on the waitlist is the name of the eligible individual getting the vaccine. The waitlist link is available online at COVIDwaco.com (look for the big red button labeled Vaccine Waitlist Registration) and the call-center is available to assist with any questions or registration at 254-750-1890.

You are being responsible, good citizens in signing up for the waitlist. The list is 20,000 – a testament to how well our citizens are responding and Waco should be proud. Your Public Health District is committed to working through the list, and residents should know that, by signing up, they are helping Waco understand who needs a vaccine and how to best get it to people with different needs.

As we continue to move forward with these clinics, it is so evident that these events are a community effort. So much goes on behind the scenes that makes these clinics run smoothly. I would like to thank our community partners who have helped the Public Health District make these clinics happen:

•      Baylor Scott and White-Hillcrest

•      Baylor University, Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas

•      McLennan Community College, School of Nursing

•      Tarleton State University, School of Nursing

•      American Medical Response, EMS services

•      Central Texas Medical Reserve Corps and all who have volunteered through that great organization

•      Heart of Texas Red Cross

•      McLennan County

•      City of Waco Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, Police, IT, Waco Convention Center, and the many employees who have pivoted to help work the call-center on weekends and after hours

•      I would particularly like to highlight this week that Waco Transit is providing free rides to the Public Health District vaccine clinic through the Demand Response Van Service. Call 254-750-1620 24-hours in advance of your appointment to schedule your ride.

•      City and county leadership and the Public Health District staff are working hard with limited information about shipments of vaccines. Communications are and will continue to be challenging, and your patience is appreciated. We will continue to communicate through our weekly update emails, our website, this press conference, social media, town hall meetings (one of which was recently done with a variety of leaders including Commissioner Pat Miller and Council Member Andrea Barefield).

Some telephone numbers to call

•      Public Health District-supported bilingual call center (254-750-1890) to provide vaccine information and/or assist clients with registration for the vaccine clinic through the online registration portal,

•      City Public Information bilingual Hotline (254-750-5606) with recorded, up-to-date COVID-19 and vaccine messages and resources.

UpSkill Waco to offer first training course – Industrial Maintenance Technician

By Tiffany Gallegos Whitley

Last year was challenging and heartbreaking for so many of us. One of the bright spots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was seeing the various ways our community worked together.

I’m particularly thankful for the willingness of our higher education, nonprofit, chamber, and city government partners to come together and strategize how to adapt workforce training in light of our higher unemployment rate due to COVID.

After a few months of consultation and planning to structure the UpSkill Waco initiative, we are finally ready to announce the first training course will be Industrial Maintenance Technician. This is a versatile occupation that offers various pathways to family-sustaining wages. There are a number of jobs for individuals with industrial maintenance skillsets in our community, and I look forward to working with some of our business partners to connect trainees to open positions. The course will be six weeks starting the week of March 15. The time and location are not yet finalized but will be included on the online application, which will be available starting Jan. 15.

I’m thankful and excited to see the first UpSkill Waco training come to fruition. I have to give a big shout out to Texas State Technical College, McLennan Community College, and Heart of Texas Goodwill for working alongside me to coordinate and bring these training courses to neighborhoods in our city.

Anyone interested in being on the email list to receive UpSkill Waco training updates and applications can email me at tgallegos@prosperwaco.org.

Tiffany Gallegos Whitley is director of workforce initiatives for Prosper Waco.

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Mural Monday: Julie Milstead

Julie Milstead with her “Mural for The Cove”

By Debbie Wright

Julie Milstead is a local artist and educator. She has partnered with Creative Waco to bring works of art alive all across the city. Her day job is with kids at Midway Middle School, and she takes her role as an educator very seriously. 

She translated this love in her life into a recent Mural for The Cove, which is a teen nurturing center designed to provide a safe space for students experiencing homelessness to access the resources they need to thrive. It is a partnership with Creative Waco and their “artprenticeship.” The mural shows a beautiful mosaic-style yellow bird trailed by puzzle pieces. 

Harold Brown, the Cove’s community relations coordinator, said the puzzle pieces represent all the people that help the Cove students and the bird itself represents the Cove students and their ability to overcome and soar above anything that comes their way. Milstead said this was an amazing experience where she was able to work with some beautiful souls.

Not only has she worked on The Cove mural, she also worked on some fun Baylor-inspired murals on windows downtown. Since Baylor Homecoming was canceled in 2020, artists took to the walls of Waco to celebrate and depict scenes of Baylor throughout our town. If you get the chance to swing by the Hippodrome and Raleigh on 8th Street and Austin Avenue you can find her two bear pieces. One is reminiscent of the Baylor Sailor bear in a colorful pop art tile-grid style, and the other is a stylized balloon bear. 

Julie Milstead with “COVID Kisses”

I actually ran into Julie at one of my favorite coffee locations, Pinewood Coffee Bar, off Austin Ave., while she was in the process of painting some beautiful bears wearing masks with the fabulous Fiona Bond. This piece was a part of the #WacoSafe mural project, and she calls this painting “COVID Kisses.” In 2020, she also participated in the #WeChalkWaco campaign in partnership with MC Art Supplies.

Milstead has worked all over Waco, and you might have even seen some of her works in the past at Dichotomy and not even known it. 

Though she is a talented artist who has worked with many mediums — including painting on sidewalks, walls, glass, shoes, tables, drum rims, and even gaming controllers — she works a lot with acrylic paint to bring her abstract designs to life on canvas. Her abstract works are visually stunning with bright colors and texture. 

One of my personal favorite collections is her Waco Cityscapes collection, and you can find one featured at The Brazos Theatre. To find more of her art and follow her on her journey on Instagram @julie_milstead_artists. There you can see her many loves and the things she is inspired by, like her travels, her family, and even Jujitsu.


Debbie Wright runs the local Know Waco Podcast, which features upcoming events and activities happening in and around the Waco area. She is a recent Texas Tech graduate, with a major in communications and minor in public relations. She has lived in the Waco area for 10 years and loves to work with local creatives and artists. 

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 Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.