Officials push vaccination message with COVID cases back on the rise
COVID-19 cases are on the rise again throughout Central Texas, including Caldwell County, where less than 50% of residents age 12 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine, trailing the state average.
With the more infectious Delta variant spreading, hospitalization rates have been steadily increasing in the area since the July 4 weekend.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, called the crisis a “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” warning last week that nearly all hospital admissions and deaths nationwide are among those who have not been vaccinated, according to an Associated Press report.
Local officials this week urged members of the public ages 12 and over to get their vaccine if they haven’t already.
“Unfortunately, our immunization rates are lagging behind others in Central Texas,” Lockhart Mayor Lew White said. “I urge you to get vaccinated, especially now that vaccines are readily available in the community. All you need to do is walk in or set up an appointment.”
In Travis County, where 71.6 percent of people over 12 have received at least one shot and 61 percent are fully vaccinated, Austin officials are talking about returning to Stage 4 guidelines, which encourage all people, even vaccinated folks, to wear masks in public, while gathering in groups indoors, and while shopping, dining or traveling. A return to Stage 4 guidelines would also mean Austin residents who are not fully vaccinated would be urged to avoid gathering in groups and only shop, dine and travel as essential.
Local governments — which include cities, counties and school districts — are prohibited from mandating mask wearing. Gov. Greg Abbott in May issued an executive order subjecting local governments or officials who attempt to impose a mask mandate to a fine of up to $1,000.
Pursuant to that order, mask-wearing at Lockhart ISD campuses will be optional during the 2021-2022 school year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics this week urged all students, teachers and staff who are eligible to get a vaccine. They also recommended that everyone on campuses older than age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Sara Bode, MD, FAAP, chair-person elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. “This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status.”
Private businesses reserve the right to require masks if they wish.
Although there have been reports of breakthrough cases — fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 — health professionals say such cases are rare. Studies suggest that the three vaccines that received emergency authorization by the FDA earlier this year — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — work against circulating variants.
Lockhart City Health Officer Dr. Charles Laurence stressed that vaccines are still the best way to protect against potential infection.
“The unvaccinated population is primarily responsible for driving the pandemic at present,” Dr. Laurence said. “Meaning, those who are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated are at risk for getting the disease and/or spreading it.”
Laurence said in a City of Lockhart report published Tuesday that vaccinated people were safe from the disease and that the public should ignore myths and falsehoods being spread on social media.
“Do the right thing. Go, get vaccinated,” Dr. Laurence urged. “Protect yourself and, more importantly, protect your family.”
Ways to get a vaccine
Check with your doctor/medical provider and local pharmacies: Your doctor or pharmacy may be enrolled to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider and have doses available.
Locate a COVID-19 vaccine clinic through Vaccines.gov: This website allows you to search for a location by zip code and your vaccine preference.
Visit the Texas Vaccine Scheduler to secure a vaccine appointment nearby.
Visit a vaccine hub near you: Texas established large vaccination hubs statewide to reach more people with the vaccine.
Nearest vaccine hubs
A+ Life Style Medical Group (815 Highway 71 W Ste 1150, Bastrop, TX 78602) For an appointment, call 866-268-2289
Austin Public Health (15 Waller St, Austin, TX 78702) For an appointment, call 512-974-2000
UT Health Dell Medical School (1601 Trinity St, Austin, TX 78712), For an appointment, call 1-833-UTCARES