Key to full return of local economy is tied to vaccinations, confidence

By Charles Williams

The Texas and U.S. economies are surging along with the confidence of U.S. consumers as COVID-19 vaccines flood the nation. But the persistence of the coronavirus makes the recovery fragile. 

Baylor Scott & White employees do their part to help community get back to normal. Vaccinations are the key.

The pace of the U.S. economic recovery in 2021 hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The general business activity index, which reflects the net share of Texas executives saying conditions improved or worsened, hit an all-time high in April for services companies. Manufacturers’ confidence spiked, too.

In the Texas services sector, indexes on general business activity and company outlook rose to their highest levels since the survey began in 2007. Among manufacturers, indexes for new orders and growth in orders climbed to their highest readings in the history of that survey, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“All the stars are aligning to have a great recovery,” Luis Torres, research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University told The Dallas Morning News. “The economy is going gangbusters and the [Dallas Fed] forecast calls for recovering all the lost jobs [in Texas] by the end of the year.”

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently issued a revised revenue estimate that gives lawmakers several billion more dollars to spend as they wrap up the next state budget. Hegar cited improved performance of the state economy as COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted over the past two months and immunizations improved consumer confidence. In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, Hegar said he is optimistic about economic growth because of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas and reopenings of businesses in the state and elsewhere in the U.S.

Nationally, the economy expanded rapidly in the first quarter at a torrid 6.4% annualized rate. Personal consumer spending rose at an equally impressive annualized rate of more than 10%.

Our local area is also participating in the recovery. McLennan County sales and county use tax was up 1.6% in April and 7.7% year-to-date. Waco specifically is up 2.6% year-to-date. Many Texas cities and counties are running deficits compared with last year’s figures. 

Despite this, nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say they would still avoid shopping at local businesses or dining inside restaurants after being vaccinated, according to a new national survey by YouGov on behalf of Bankrate. But the economy can’t fully recover until consumers do what they do best in America: buy freely what they want or need. 

The key to full return of the local economy is residents’ confidence: How vulnerable am I if I venture out to shop or return to the workplace? How contagious are my neighbors and friends? 

Herd immunity — the rate at which enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely — may be an unattainable goal, experts say. However, the only sure answer is to vaccinate as many people as we can.

As of May 6, only 24% of McLennan County residents were fully vaccinated. Compare that with the Texas rate of 29% and the U.S. rate of 33%. A CDC assessment looking at hospitalizations in two U.S. hospital networks covering 24 hospitals in 14 states has found that fully vaccinated adults over the age of 65 are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated adults in the same age group.

Encourage your friends, coworkers, and neighbors to get vaccinated. As more and more acquaintances become vaccinated, hesitancy and resistance will continue to melt. That leads to more consumer confidence and fuels the local economic recovery. 

A free online MyBSWHealth account is the easiest way for Waco area residents to schedule vaccine appointments at Baylor Scott & White Health. There are also walk-in appointments available. 

Right now it is time to roll up our sleeves and engage our communities to increase vaccination. The health of our community and our economy depend on it.

Charles Williams joined Baylor Scott & White in January 2021 as president of BSW – Hillcrest in Waco. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg & Calhoun Counties in Orangeburg, S.C. Charles is no stranger to Texas, having spent most of his life in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

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.

Vaccinations provide Wacoans with renewed confidence

By Ferrell Foster

In a Zoom call of community leaders Wednesday morning, Suzii Paynter March noted, “There is a new sense of resiliency and the confidence that comes with vaccinations.”

Educator, Dr. Hawel Rowe, responded in the chat box, “Suzii, It is the ability to EXHALE!!”

So true. If you have not yet gotten your vaccinations, let me encourage you. It provides you with more than disease protection; it gives your spirit a boost, as well.

I know some people are hesitant to get the vaccination because they just don’t like vaccines or they have heard some of the false rumors circulating on the Internet. If you are hesitant or know someone who is, please know that there is a tremendous upside to getting these shots. 

After so many months of knowing that you could be exposed to the virus at any time, it is easy to forget what it was like to feel comfortable in public spaces. COVID-19 is particularly fearful because carriers of the disease often do not know they have it. 

Having the vaccination in your arm gives you a sense of almost having a superpower. You may not be able to fly like Superman, but you gradually develop a confidence that COVID bounce off of you like bullets bounce off of Superman.

As Suzii said, you do feel a “new sense of resiliency and the confidence that comes with vaccinations.” And as Dr. Rowe said, you can begin to exhale, both emotionally and physically. And, if you’ve ever tried to hold your breath a long time, it really does feel liberating to exhale.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with 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.

Waco ISD is not letting down its guard on COVID

By Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC

On March 10, 2020, I shared my first Facebook post about COVID-19. I had spent all week scrolling the CDC website trying to decide just how bad this virus could be. I met with other nurses, epidemiologists, and employees at the health district. I gathered as much information as possible to help our Waco ISD decide what this would mean for our students.

School supplies and COVID-19 prevention items

I learned that two weeks at home would be helpful in case anyone was exposed over spring break. Two weeks turned into a month, turned into three months. The next thing I knew, we were planning a socially distanced outdoor graduation for both of our Waco ISD high schools. 

Over the summer, I kept thinking, surely this is going to improve, surely we will not be rolling into next school year still battling this virus. It has now been one full year. ONE YEAR! I would have never guessed that we would still be fighting COVID-19 a year later. 

We have seen our share of tragedy and loss during this pandemic. The first death from COVID-19 in McLennan County was one of our own, Mr. Phillip Perry, the G.W. Carver Middle School principal for the 2019-2020 school year. We’ve lost employees, our students and employees have lost loved ones, have battled the virus themselves, and have experienced the dreaded two-week quarantine at home time and time again. Our nurses have spent countless hours after work and on the weekends contact tracing, making quarantine phone calls, answering questions, and providing a supportive and encouraging ear to fearful parents and employees.  

Waco ISD numbers mirrored the county numbers from the beginning. If the county had an uptick, so did we. If the county began to drop off, so did we. We knew we were doing everything in our power to control the spread of this virus within our walls. 

Masks were mandatory for all Waco ISD students, employees, and visitors. Everyone who comes through our doors has their temperature taken. Employees answer daily screening questions to check for symptoms of COVID-19 and potential exposures. 

Even with every CDC recommendation in place, we still experienced a number of cases on our campuses. When we noticed an increase of cases on a particular campus or area of town, we hosted free drive-through testing sites open to all students and staff. These sites would average 300-400 people in a few hours. 

When we returned from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, we held drive-through testing sites in hopes of catching as many people as possible before they returned to our campuses and exposed others.  

In January, we began conversations with Ascension Providence and Midway ISD to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to our eligible employees. We hosted four clinics during February and March and vaccinated over 1,000 employees from Waco, Midway, Bosqueville, Connally, La Vega, and West school districts. We currently have employees in series with their PCPs, local pharmacies, and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. We are confident that any educator who wants a vaccine will be able to obtain one very soon. 

As we look to the final 12 weeks of this school year, our case counts are lower than they’ve been since September.

We will continue to offer free testing on all Waco ISD campuses through the nurses’ offices and from 3:00-5:00 each day at GWAHCA for all WISD students and staff.

We will continue to require masks and social distancing as often as possible in classrooms.

We will continue contact tracing and quarantining on the same day we are notified of a positive case.

We are not letting our guard down. We are not taking any chances. We will continue to follow all CDC recommendations to keep our students, our staff, and our community safe. This isn’t over yet, but there is an end in sight. 

Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC, is director of health services for Waco Independent School District.

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.

Vaccine distribution provides life-changing clinical experience for MCC students

By Madison Schick 

McLennan Community College’s Health Professions students have experienced personal fulfillment through their volunteer efforts at Waco’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics, and they have helped redefine the influences of hands-on education and what it means to learn through experience. 

Students of the Associate Degree Nursing, Medical Lab Technician, Medical Assistant, and Veterinary Technology programs participated with MCC faculty and other local medical professionals to educate, care for, and vaccinate members of the community in the fight against COVID-19. 

Students’ participation in the vaccination clinics has been eye-opening in community building and in the ability of aspiring health profession students to witness a glimpse of the impactful differences they will continue to make in the future as professionals. 

Liz Painter, RN and simulation specialist within MCC’s Vocational Nursing, administered vaccines to survivors of COVID-19, joyfully tearful immunocompromised adults, and at-risk geriatric patients hopeful to see their families in the near future. With pride in MCC and her students, Liz is also grateful to have met “such a range of people, but all so happy to be receiving the vaccine.” 

Among the thousands to receive the vaccine, MCC’s Senior Graphic Designer Clif-Ann Paris could not have been more impressed with the efficiency, efficacy, and success of the vaccination clinic. “My appointment was for 12:10 p.m., and I was given my first dose only two minutes later. I was given all the information I needed, and my wellbeing was prioritized.” 

What’s next for McLennan Community College? Dean of Health Professions Glynnis Gaines reflects, “We always talk about community service, and it is a part of who we are, but this has really opened new doors” for students and faculty. Nursing students from Baylor University, Texas State University, and Texas Christian University make up only a few of participating institutions across the state that join MCC in education and service through active volunteerism at COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the state. 

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing. Her other interests include connecting with old friends, trying new restaurants, and spoiling her two rescue cats, Remus and Chewy, with lots of love and treats.  

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. 

Vaccines are the new toilet paper

By Suzii Paynter March

Everybody needs it and there is not enough. Rumors fly, promises of millions are made, but national news notwithstanding, it’s only the local supply that matters. The city, the county, medical providers, pharmacies, hubs, hospitals are all at the ready… and ready… and ready. Could somebody turn on the spigot? Vaccine production, running water? It is a frustratingly bleak reminder that the systems we put in place matter. 

When it comes to Waco and the meager amounts of vaccine we are being sent from Texas State Health Services, I’m wondering, “Is the State of Texas Health data up to date? Do they know Waco-McLennan has grown in the past 5 years? Is our dose allocation up to date? Or are they using 10-year-old Census data to determine the number of vaccine doses we need?” I mean, can people in Austin count?

Good people are working hard, but they are pioneers forging a way through the we-have-never-had-a-pandemic underbrush, not motorists driving down a well-travelled Interstate highway of frozen medicine delivery. 

Remember the fits and starts that riddled Katrina response? The unintended health consequences for first responders from 911? Things got better when subsequent hurricanes hit, and new protections are now in place for first responders. As a nation we are not slow learners, and I take comfort in believing that we are able to learn and adapt. 

Back to bathroom tissue. Last March the run on the tissue aisle at HEB meant they draped the aisle to hide the poor stock boys so they could get product to the shelves, pull down the draping and then scurry off the floor to safety before the rush of shoppers. There was an early morning hour set aside for elderly  shoppers and other experimental measures employed by stores to try to meet demand and spread the essential tissue widely. 

If you are 1b, are you calling and emailing every place you can think of?  I am. Back in November I was prepared to wait patiently until April for my vaccine because I thought none was available…. THEN we were told vaccine was available for 1b NOW. Then I shifted from patient patient to eager patient, urgently looking for my dose! 

I sincerely believe the spigot will come on and vaccines will be available. Waco has a system for delivery through public hubs and private sources, and there are many places and populations that need support. The need is going to get bigger and bigger, and we have to plan and build for tomorrow as well as today. 

So my pledge is that even while I am anxious for my dose, I can still be a part of the build out –  I can call, volunteer, organize my workplace, my family, keep up to date and help my friends get connected, too. The city needs volunteers as vaccinators, as paperwork and crowd management volunteers, and as ambassadors for various neighborhoods and in various congregations and pockets of the community. Call the city number to help: 254-750-1890.

Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco, our community’s collective impact initiative. She is a graduate of Baylor University, with a lifetime of experience in organizational leadership and public advocacy.

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.

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.

Mayor’s opening remarks for today’s COVID-19 press conference

Mayor’s Opening Remarks

Transcript with Headers Added

COVID-19 Press Conference, Jan. 20

By Mayor Dillon Meek

I appreciate everyone taking the time to join us. . . .

I’ll talk briefly on hospitalizations. Thank you to our healthcare providers. You are extravagantly serving us and we are thankful.

Hospitals and Doctors

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 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.

State Control

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 of requirements of businesses.   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.

Testing

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 co-pay to get the test. Please go to COVIDwaco.com to register.

Temporary Morgue

The  Waco-McLennan County Emergency Management office previously received a refrigerated trailer to be used as a temporary morgue. This refrigerated truck is currently housing 23 remains.

Vaccinations

I will give a brief update on the Health District, which is but one vaccine provider in McLennan County, and then Judge Felton will discuss the other 20 vaccine providers in our county, as well as the vaccination process at the national and state level. (As a reminder, other vaccine providers include HEB, Veterans’ Affairs, CVS, Family Health System, and the hospital systems, as well as the Health District. Our Health District and Providence have both separately been designated as  vaccination hubs.)

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District is one of the local vaccine providers committed to serving the public and operating with complete transparency and with that I move into my report.   

Today is Day 1 of the second vaccine clinic. We are running the clinic today and tomorrow and distributing the second 1,500 dose allocation that we recently received from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

We have heard the many frustrations with the clinic registration process, and I want you to know that we are listening and we are continually looking at ways to make changes to the process and make it as equitable as possible. I would ask for your patience for our Health District and city staff — they have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and now through this vaccine distribution process. This is just the second allotment that we have gotten as a function of being one of the state’s 28 vaccine hubs and we made a number of changes to the registration process over the past week.

Some of the things we did differently for the registration process this weekend were to:

— Announce 24 hours ahead of time that appointments would be made available.

— Open up registration at two different times to provide accessibility for those who may work on weekends.

— Reserve a percentage of appointments specifically for people calling because they do not have online access.

Throughout this process we have communicated and worked with area churches, non-profit and social service agencies, and community leaders to try and ensure that our vulnerable populations are not being left out of this process. I thank them for their help.

In the first clinic, about 87% of appointments were made by McLennan County residents. Just over 7% of individuals vaccinated were African American and just under 9% were Hispanic. 88% of individuals were white.

This week, 77% of appointments were made by McLennan County residents. Again, about 7% are African American and just under 14% are Hispanic. 86% are white.

We are committed to evaluating our process and making adjustments to ensure that it is equitable and that everyone will have a fair and equitable opportunity to get this vaccine . 

Ultimately, the 1,500-dose allotment we are getting is nowhere near enough to meet the demand we are seeing within our community. This weekend online registration appointments were full in less than 10 minutes on Sunday and in less than 5 minutes on Monday. In just over a 36-hour period Sunday to Monday, our call center received almost 20,000 calls. We had 8 call-center operators on Sunday and 12 on Monday — these staff were able to answer and speak with 571 callers in less than an hour on Sunday and 491 callers on Monday.

For future clinics, there will not be a registration period like what has been hosted these past two weekends. The Health District has established a wait list for the vaccine. If you have already attempted to sign up for appointments and either signed up for the wait list through the registration portal text number or through the email newsletter you will be on this wait list. We have almost 14,000 people on the wait list, and it continues to grow. 

Beginning today, a wait list registration link is available on COVIDwaco.com or by calling in to the call center at 254-750-1890 for assistance registering. 

The Health District will contact people from this list to fill cancellations and to schedule appointments for future clinics. All vaccinations continue to be by appointment only. There are no walk-ups accepted at the vaccine clinic. 

Thank You

We are excited to continue this vaccination effort in Waco and McLennan County. I would like to thank the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District staff, supporting City of Waco departments, and all of the community partners who have made these clinics possible and thank you for the efforts to date. You are doing important work in our community.

Lastly, I would like to invite our community to tune in to a  COVID-19 vaccine town hall meeting that will take place on Jan. 21, 2021 from 7-8 p.m., featuring Commissioner Patricia Miller as moderator, Dr. Terri Woods-Campbell, Dr. Peaches Henry, Council Member Andrea Barefield, Dr. Jimmy Hunter, and Chet Edwards. This town hall will be available on Channel 10, as well as the Waco City Cable Channel.

Taking a shot in the arm to stop COVID

By Ferrell Foster

Neighbors figure large in human interaction. They give us friendship, help, and encouragement as we face the varied opportunities and challenges of life. And because we care about both ourselves and our neighbors, we get vaccinations.

Tuesday afternoon, I rolled up my sleeve and took a literal shot in the arm. I was one of 424 people vaccinated on the first day of the “first large-scale public COVID-19 vaccination clinic in McLennan County,” as reported by the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Our Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and all others involved in this clinic deserve applause for this beginning. The process was smooth and efficient — in and out pretty quickly. Volunteers from McLennan Community College’s nursing program and Waco’s Family Health Center, plus the Waco Fire Department, ran the clinic. 

I arrived 15 minutes early for my Tuesday afternoon appointment, went through the various steps, and received my shot promptly and on time. After the shot, I waited the required 15 minutes before leaving. Eighteen hours later, I have had no reaction to the shot other than a sore arm reminiscent of the shingles vaccine I received a couple of years ago.

The clinic will give 1,500 vaccinations by appointment this week (already booked up), but this is just the beginning. My age got me into this group, and it was good to see other Wacoans taking advantage of the opportunity.

I am concerned that people with little or no Internet access are at a big disadvantage when appointments are made online, but I hope our health district is working for ways to connect with this important part of our community — maybe with some appointments being made through community organizations, rather than online.

Large-scale vaccination is not an easy job, but we have started, and that is good for the health, education, jobs, business, entertainment, and government. Let’s keep #WacoSafe.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco. He also is senior content specialist for care and communication with 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.

Surviving COVID-19 and the Holidays

By Dr. Peaches Henry

As predicted by infectious disease experts in the summer, coronavirus infections are now surging across the nation during the winter and holiday period.  COVID-19 hospitalizations in McLennan County hit a record on Monday, November 24, and local health officials said that warnings about Thanksgiving gatherings must be taken seriously.  If not, the McLennan County’s medical capacity could be strained in the weeks afterwards.  The scientists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are pleading with Americans to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving and to celebrate only with members of our immediate households.  Put starkly, spend Thanksgiving with family; spend Christmas in the ICU. 

Facing these dire consequences, many of us have decided to forego our traditional holiday celebrations to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.  My own family, stretched across several Texas cities and involved in various conditions of employment including completely working from home, working hybridly, and working face-to-face all dealing with students, has decided to forego a face-to-face Thanksgiving this year.

Though I am disappointed not to be with my family, I wanted to reach out to others to offer some ways that we are trying to get through this time.  Let’s face it.  We might have to spend Christmas separated as well.  We might as well prepare for the entire holiday season—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, all of them. These are safe activities that are good for our emotional and mental health that abide by the recommendations of the CDC and local doctors.

Be grateful.

  1. If you are reading this blog, be thankful.  Though 2020 has been unprecedented in so many ways, we still have much to be thankful for.  Count your blessings.  Since it is 2020, count up to twenty blessings.  Go ahead and count twenty more, because it’s 2020.

Reach out to others.

Though apart, we are in this season together. Some people suffer from depression during this season even when we are not in a worldwide pandemic, so you can imagine how down they are feeling now.  We know that giving to others helps build resilience and diminishes some of the isolation many are suffering.  Therefore, it is important to be purposeful about reaching out to people and making them feel part of the community.

  1. How about that new neighbor who just moved in?  Write a note of welcome with your phone number for emergencies. Or that family whose children have been learning remotely for weeks?  Leave a puzzle or a card game on the front porch. 
  2. Give poinsettias to several of your neighbors. 
  3. Deliver a meal to someone you know will be alone for the holidays.  Bake cookies and let your children deliver them to neighbors (remember, contact free!).  This is one of the CDC recommended substitute activities.

Find new ways to observe your family’s traditions. 

  1. One of the activities I miss most is cooking and chatting with family the night before the big day, especially with my mom (now gone to heaven) “suggesting” that I add more of this or that ingredient. This year I’m cooking and chatting with my sister via Zoom.
  2. Among my family’s time-honored traditions is playing board games.  From Connect Four to Monopoly to Bible Trivial Pursuit to Trouble to Uno to Jenga to Sorry to Scrabble, we play them all.  To say that we play games is a milquetoast description of what my family has done over the years.  We play ferocious, competitive, winner-take-all games.  We game out which games we are going to play weeks ahead.  We pick our teams with winning in mind—my late mom, the Sunday School superintendent, for Bible Trivial Pursuit; my son, the strategizing law student, for Monopoly; my brother, the sports fanatic and movie enthusiast, for Trivial Pursuit; and me, the English professor, for Scrabble.  Good sportsmanship is a must:  winners and losers must shake hands and smile at the end of the game.  My sister and I still crack up remembering the grimaces that passed for smiles when we were children.  Then we gloat all year till the next holiday (really for years).  The family still gives me grief for not remembering Robert Ludlum as the author of the Bourne Identity which would have won the game for the girls in 2006! Argh!  So how will my family replace this tradition when we will not be together?  We are still going to play games.  We are going to harness the power of technology—Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, etc.  One game we are going to play is the #Hashtag.  This will advantage millennials and GenXers, but I plan to get one on my team.  Whatever your family’s tradition is, find a new way to celebrate it.
  3. Enjoy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while you prepare dinner?  The full 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on YouTube.
  4. Watch your favorite holiday specials together on Zoom.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air free on PBS on December 13.  One, two, three, click!
  5. Put “the game” on at everyone’s house and watch it “together.”
  6. Sing Christmas carols together via Zoom.

Bring back old traditions. 

  1. A Christmas card arriving via the USPS in a mailbox would lift the spirits of someone who is spending the holiday alone and away from family.  Writing the cards together as a family over cookies and milk or tea could create some great family moments.  The benefits of a paper card is that it can be hung up in a barracks, stuck to a refrigerator, or placed on a desk.

Create new traditions. 

  1. Plug your charger into your phones and have a conversation with a group of friends or family members.  This can easily be done via Zoom, but if folks are tired of Zoom, everyone can kick back on couches and chat.  We play a conversation game called “Favorite” at dinner parties that is easily transferable to a phone conversation.  It works for all ages and leads to great conversations and reveals surprising tidbits about players.  Sample topics:  What is your favorite childhood television show?  Dark Shadows, anyone?  What is your favorite book?  Favorite mystery? Favorite car?  Favorite animal?
  2. Have a drive-by parade for sick-n-shut-ins at your church.

Put on your favorite soundtrack.

  1. A good soundtrack can make any situation bearable.  Put yours on and dance the night away.  Take your pick of music streaming platforms:  Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music.
  2. Go a step further and dance.  Use YouTube videos to learn the steps to line dances.  The Electric Slide (old school favorite), the Wobble, the Cupid Shuffle, the Cotton Eyed Joe.  Dancing is a much more enjoyable way of getting those endorphins going than running.

Breathe, relax, release.

  1. Embrace the fact that you don’t have to cook a twelve-course meal for twenty family members plus that family of six who will show up without notice.
  2. Be happy that Uncle Blank won’t be at the table to ask uncomfortable questions.  Do give him a call though.
  3. Go to bed early the night before Thanksgiving Day.  Better, get up late on Thanksgiving Day.
  4. Put your holiday decorations up early.  My neighbors seem to already have decided to do this.  Lights lift the spirits.  My family usually waits till Christmas Eve to go see the lights.  This year, I’m going early.

Bonus:  Have hope and faith!

  1. Know that we will get through this time.  History is our witness.  The world got through the 1918 flu pandemic.  We will get through the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Peaches Henry is the president of the Waco NAACP and an English professor at McLennan Community College.  She will be spending Thanksgiving with her best friend and black Lab Samson and Christmas with her son Corey and Samson.

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.

Increased costs due to Covid, Cuts in federal and state funding may force reduced services at Meals on Wheels

By Christine Perera

As a part-time resident assistant at an assisted living facility in my hometown of Boerne (TX), I have the pleasure of getting to know senior citizens. While at school, I look forward to summers spent reconnecting with residents at The Heritage Place. When I entered the facility this summer, however, things were different. Instead of a warm welcoming, all the residents were tucked away in their rooms. Social distancing policies made interactions between residents scarce and reconnection a luxury that many assisted living facilities can no longer afford.

Since COVID-19 broke out, everyone has made sacrifices. At the living facility, residents sacrificed communal dining experiences for meals taken in lonely rooms. I have helped with delivering such meals to residents, and there is one instance my mind often revisits. I pushed an old busser cart filled with trays of homemade tomato soup, and the tangy, comforting scent followed me down the long, carpeted hall. When I arrived at the first door, I balanced a tray in my arms and, as one hand lifted to knock on the door, the tray began to slip from the other. Hot soup spilled all over the floor, causing me to jump back in surprise. Luckily, I knew the kitchen had a large pot of soup on the stove. I didn’t bat an eye as I mopped up the mess and headed back to the kitchen for another bowl. Instead, I took comfort in knowing that such a small mistake could happen to anyone. As I learned more about senior hunger, this very thought developed into a source of worry.

Many people do not have the means to access another bowl of soup when they need it. My experience as an intern for the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty showed me that sometimes accidents, like dropping food, cause senior citizens with already limited food access to go hungry. Being unable to physically get more food can also have long-term health consequences.

Amidst the global pandemic, obstacles to food accessibility have become a larger problem than normal. This is especially true for home-bound senior citizens, who face new difficulties in accessing food due to the virus. While stay-at-home orders keep COVID-19 in check, they can also make trips to the grocery store a frightful task for those at increased risk of contracting severe cases of COVID-19. Because of the high risks, caring for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, is more important than ever before.

Meals on Wheels is a food aid program that delivers nutritious meals to senior citizens. The program also helps look after the in-home safety of participants, connect participants with their communities, and increase socialization. According to Debbie King, Executive Director of Meals on Wheels in Waco, volunteers are sometimes the only people participants interact with all day. While delivering meals, volunteers chat with seniors and take note of health issues they believe might indicate severe or life-threatening conditions. These health issues are then reported to worried family members, who may live far away and be unable to check on their loved ones themselves.

According to the More Than A Meal Comprehensive Network Study, in-home health assessments (safety checks), social opportunity, and nutritional access make Meals on Wheels an invaluable program. Many families take comfort in knowing they can rely on Meals on Wheels volunteers during these unprecedented times. Additionally, those who cannot afford care at a senior facility can receive aid at a fraction of the private and/or public cost. For reference, the average cost of board at a senior facility is $57,000/year, in comparison to Meals on Wheels participation, which costs the organization roughly $2,000/year per person (based on Texas data). Unfortunately, due to decreased funding and increased demand, Meals on Wheels in Waco may soon be unable to support all its participants.

Meal on Wheels is supported by federal and state grant programs. The recent elimination of federal grants that once funded Meals on Wheels have made program budgets tighten. A statement from Meals on Wheels America President and CEO Ellie Hollander revealed that among cut grants are the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).

Texans Feeding Texans is a grant that Waco’s Meals on Wheels chapter relies on, and Texans Feeding Texans is also at risk of losing funding. Texans Feeding Texans is a state grant funded by the Texas Department of Agriculture. The Texas State Department recently decreased the Texas Department of Agriculture’s budget by 5%, creating a loss of up to $1,400,000 during the current biennium. This budget cut means there is less money available to fund grant programs. When the Texas legislature evaluates the Texans Feeding Texans grant in 2021, the program risks reduced funding if not enough people advocate for it.

Meals on Wheels in Waco is also supported by local funders and volunteers. Many local healthcare providers and non-profit organizations sustain Meals on Wheels through fundraising and donations. Volunteers play a key role in getting the meals to Meals on Wheels participants. Because of COVID-19, people may feel reluctant to physically help their community members. Additionally, limited funds have presented obstacles in delivering meals to all program participants. Whereas the Waco chapter used to deliver food daily, King stated that local volunteers now visit with participants 3-5 times per week.

Since COVID-19 broke out in February, Meals on Wheels in Waco has experienced a 20% increase in participants. The national Meals on Wheels program had a 47% increase in participants since March. The program has spent more than originally planned to ensure meals are made and delivered per CDC health guidelines. To compensate for the unpredictability of food resources, King explained that Meals on Wheels in Waco also increased portion sizes by 30%. The extra costs of such care-inspired decisions and limited funds have increased net costs of delivering meals by 97% (according to a national Meals on Wheels Pulse survey). If the net costs of delivering meals remains so high, Meals on Wheels chapters may be unable to reach all participants at the same time that participants are more reliant on food accessibility assistance than ever.

The Waco community cannot afford to be complacent about senior hunger. Wacoans have a duty to get involved with our community so programs like Meals on Wheels get the funding and support they deserve. There are many ways you can get involved. Stay informed about local, state, and federal government and call your representatives to advocate for program funding through grants such as Texans Feeding Texans. Make time to deliver meals to vulnerable community members. Donate money to your local Meals on Wheels chapter to help senior citizens get the food they need. These actions will allow Meals on Wheels to access much needed supplies, deliver more meals, and conduct more safety checks. Please visit www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org (national organization) and www.mowwaco.org (Waco chapter) to contribute to or learn more about the Meals on Wheels program.


Christine Perera is a senior at Baylor University. She is an intern for the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. Christine is majoring in Professional Writing/Rhetoric and minoring in Philosophy. In her free time, she loves to read and take long walks with her dog.

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.


Notes:

  • Hollander, Ellie. STATEMENT ON PRESIDENT’S FISCAL YEAR 2020 BUDGET, 2019, www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/learn-more/national/press-room/news/2019/03/11/statement-on-president-s-fiscal-year-2020-budget.
  • King, Debbie. “Texans Feeding Texans.” Meals on Wheels Waco. 30 Sept. 2020, Online meeting.
  • Meals on Wheels America. “A Story of Meals on Wheels in Communities Across the Country Study Summary.” More Than a Meal Comprehensive Network Study, 2019.
  • NEW SURVEY DATA: MEALS ON WHEELS NATIONAL NETWORK CONTINUES TO FACE UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND AND RISING COSTS DUE TO COVID-19, 2020, www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/learn-more/national/press-room/news/2020/08/12/new-survey-data-meals-on-wheels-national-network-continues-to-face-unprecedented-demand-and-rising-costs-due-to-covid-19.
  • Perera, Christine S, and Debbie King. “Conversation About Meals on Wheels.” 29 Sept. 2020.