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.