Our city wants your input on spending Rescue Plan funds

The City of Waco is receiving $34.7 million in federal COVID relief funds, and city leaders want community input on how to spend a portion of the funds.

Waco received $17.4 million in June from the American Rescue Plan and will receive a second payment next year for a total of $34.7 million.

“The City of Waco intends to use $15 million … for municipal purposes including improvements to infrastructure for Water, Wastewater, and WMARSS as well as for other infrastructure resiliency and backup projects,” says the City’s website.

The city plan also has set aside $17 million to provide direct assistance to households and businesses. The exact use of these funds will be determined based on community feedback using the Balancing Act Tool.

Council Member Kelly Palmer said: “The data collected from the tool will shape how we invest these funds in our communities. … The city will be gathering this data through the end of September.”

English Balancing Act Tool

Spanish Balancing Act Tool

The Balancing Act Tool allows you to allocate the $17 million to various categories of funding utilizing the available funds set aside for these purposes. “If you do not see any area in simulator, please add in your suggestions.” 

The American Rescue Plan Act is the $1.9 trillion act signed into law March 11 by President Biden. The Act contained direct relief to citizens, including the $1,400 stimulus checks received earlier this year, and $350 billion for eligible state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency created by the spread of COVID-19. This latter portion is providing the funds now available to Waco.

Meraki to offer COVID vaccinations in East Waco

Meraki Medical Associates LLP will begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations Friday, Aug. 20, at 1001 Dunbar Street in East Waco. The opening is planned in conjunction with August being National Immunization Awareness Month.

CEO Sophia Strother formed Meraki “to create access and awareness for communities of color in the East Waco,” she said. Meraki is Greek for doing something with soul, creativity, and love. “It’s important to always put something of yourself into what you’re doing, whatever it may be. We are a starting point for the sustained health of our community. We will be known for our compassion and ability to provide services to everyone we encounter with meraki.”

Strother is passionate about helping communities of color fight against COVID. After having over 10 family members directly affected by the virus, she decided she needed to take action. Partnering with Living Word Church of God in Christ, Meraki is set to open its clinic Aug. 20 to provide community-focused health awareness on the importance of vaccine-preventable diseases. It will provide vaccination clinics and educational opportunities statewide that will target underserved communities and special populations. 

Meraki is at 1001 Dunbar St., Waco. This building has housed Living Word Church of God in Christ, Meals on Wheels, and Community Food Pantry for all of 20 years. Meraki believes “every person deserves an opportunity to be given a health experience that inspires them and enhances their quality of life. The team hopes to partner with other faith-based organizations, community organizations and corporations to administer vaccinations to individuals 16 years and older.” Sophia is passionate about helping others through faith, knowledge, and resources. 

Aug. 20 Events at Meraki

11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Tour

11:30am – noon – Press Conference

Noon – 2 p.m. – Vaccination Clinic

Strother also owns a logistics company and was recently featured on HGTV’s “40 Year Old Property Virgin.” Connect with Sophia online here.

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 [email protected].

Financial choices: Convergent or divergent?

By Dexter Hall

Definition of divergent

1a: moving or extending in different directions from a common point: diverging from each other divergent paths.

Definition of convergent

1: tending to move toward one point or to approach each other: CONVERGING convergent lines

I have been on a personal journey with family and friends, as well as friends of friends, to ensure they have received their COVID-19 vaccination. I have shared with many that I am “2-Shots In” referring to the Moderna vaccination. 

More importantly, I have shared how this is helping me to move past the pandemic, while still using safe protocols. I’m beginning to do the things I enjoy most — things I have been inhibited from doing during the pandemic, such as travel, gatherings, concerts, and many more.

Prosper Waco’s Samer Nsairat (l-r), Dexter Hall, and Sammy Salazar staff a booth during the Juneteenth Family Fun Day that provided information for the Bank On initiative. Hall leads Prosper Waco’s financial security efforts.

As we all move forward, I ponder which way our community will go and what will be left behind. Are we diverging or converging post-pandemic? Which path will we take?

Financially, each path carries its own weight of issues — some with good prospects and some with not-so-good prospects. 

COVID-19 forced us all to work together, to converge, if we were to survive the health and economic apocalypse that could have engulfed us. We worked together for the greater good. During this convergence, COVID-19 helped uncover mass amounts of disparity in our community regarding health, education, and financial and economic security. Some of us were not surprised at all by these disparities because this is and has been our lived experience via work, life, or in my case both.

As these long-held disparities in financial and economic security were displayed openly for all to see, there was a movement or convergence of government, community, nonprofits, business leaders, and others. They came together to develop many initiatives, in some cases first-of-their-kind programming to help the LMI (low-to-moderate income) members of our community. These safety nets ensured the bottom didn’t drop out of our economic floor, which would have been catastrophic for all, including the “haves.”

COVID-19 put us all on a converging path of economic survivability and showed how working together provides a brighter path for our most vulnerable community members and also works for ALL Wacoans.

As we resume our pre-pandemic normal, we tend to diverge, to move away from working together, back to our corners, and away from our common goal of fighting COVID-19. I wonder what will be lost that was gained during our fight. And, as in any war, what will the spoils be? 

Will we forget the financial and economic disparities that were put on display as many in our minority communities lost their jobs with no economic safety net?

Will we forget the struggles of our minority small business owners who lacked access to capital prior to COVID-19 and saw greater losses during the pandemic than their counterparts?

Will we forget how they asked for and still need “Targeted Technical Assistance” that works for them and not for the provider?

Will we forget the housing needs of our marginalized community as prices of goods to build housing have soared almost three times their pre-pandemic levels and which will ultimately widen the already wide Black/White housing and wealth gap and also lead to an “affordable rental” issue in our community?  

I ask, are we on a path of converging or diverging post-pandemic?

Let us stay the course and “LIVE” like the pandemic is behind us but continuing to “WORK TOGETHER” as if the pandemic was still in front of us. Let us converge, not diverge, in our viewpoints on the economic security for all Wacoans.

At Prosper Waco we are working to address the financial and economic security for our marginalized communities in Waco. We invite you to join us in this fight that ultimately impacts all Wacoans. Please contact me at [email protected] for information on how you can be involved as we are converging together through the “City of Waco Financial Empowerment Blueprint.” 

One for all and all for one.

Dexter Hall is chief of staff and senior content specialist for financial security with Prosper Waco. For more information on financial security contact Hall at [email protected].

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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

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. Hazel 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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

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 [email protected]. 

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 [email protected].

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.