Cobler: Texans urged to roll up their sleeves


Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas leaders are rolling up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to encourage the public to follow suit.

“I will never ask any Texan to do something that I’m not willing to do myself,” Abbott said before getting vaccinated at a televised event in Austin.

The next round of vaccines will go to people 65 and older and to those who are at greatest risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19. More than 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Texas have occurred in people 65 or older, Texas Department of State Health Services officials said in announcing the updated priority list.

“The focus on people who are age 65 and older or who have comorbidities will protect the most vulnerable populations,” said Imelda Garcia, Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel chairwoman. “This approach ensures that Texans at the most severe risk from COVID-19 can be protected across races and ethnicities and regardless of where they work.”

The state is in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, which includes residents of long-term care centers and front-line health care workers. With an estimated 1.9 million Texans in those groups, it will likely be at least two weeks before people in Phase 1B can get the vaccine.

The Phase 1B priorities are below, and additional information is available at dshs.texas.gov:

• People 65 years of age and older

• People 16 years of age and older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19, such as but not limited to cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; solid organ transplantation, severe obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and type 2 diabetes.

Capitol to reopen

Closed since March, the Texas Capitol will reopen Jan. 4, about a week before the 87th Legislature convenes.

In announcing the reopening, Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said safety protocols have been put in place to maintain a safe environment for all visitors, lawmakers and staff. 

“Preparations to safely conduct business in the Texas House and Senate are ongoing, and each chamber will vote upon their respective rules and protocols at the start of the legislative session,” the officials said in a statement.

The session opens at noon Jan. 12. 

Also last week, Austin and Travis County officials, alarmed by a spike in cases, raised the community’s COVID-19 risk warning to its highest level since the pandemic began. Under the Stage 5 risk warning, the local officials are asking people not to gather with anyone outside their household and to limit their trips outside homes to essential ones such as going to the grocery store or work.

 Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said the Stage 5 warning was necessary even though the hospital system in Austin remained stable.

“When you see smoke, are you fully alarmed and call the fire department, or do you wait until the flames roll down the hallway?” he told KXAN-TV. “What we’ve learned over and over again … if you wait to pull the alarm until the hospitals are full, that surge will continue until the hospitals, and the morgues, are overwhelmed.”

State vs. local CARES money

The state of Texas is not living up to its promise of allocating federal pandemic relief funds to local governments, an advocacy group contends.

After Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act in March,  Gov. Abbott said $1.85 billion of the funding Texas received would go toward supporting local governments. However, advocacy group Texas Housers said its analysis shows the state has not delivered.

The local governments are supposed to apply through a reimbursement process administered by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, according to a May 11 letter from the governor.

“Since the letter, TDEM has stymied local governments at every turn,” Houser officials said in a statement. “Although the process should have been a clean handoff of resources specifically earmarked for cities and counties, money has been complicated for local governments to access and has flowed slowly or not at all.” 

A Texas emergency management official has said the largest barrier to reimbursement has been local governments not submitting the correct documents. Also, some of the CARES money has been spent on state projects that benefit cities and counties.

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.