During the Bastrop County Commissioners Court’s last meeting of the year, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority for Bastrop County, presented the current plan for getting COVID-19 vaccines to Bastrop County residents.
Bastrop County recently formed a task force to figure out the distribution of vaccines in accordance with the state’s guiding principles, which includes protecting healthcare workers and frontline workers, protecting vulnerable populations at risk to severe disease and death, mitigating health inequities due to factors such as poverty and geography, and transparency with the public. The task force includes representation from the state, emergency medical services, hospices, nursing homes, hospitals, local leaders and more.
The two approved COVID-19 vaccines were developed by Pfizer and Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, while the Moderna vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 30 days. The Moderna vaccine will be predominately used in Bastrop County, Walkes said.
Once the vaccine is introduced into a person’s body, their natural ability to make antibodies will create antibodies that respond to a part of the virus called the spike protein, Walkes explained. This protein is the part of the virus that attaches the virus to the cells. As a result, the antibodies created to fight the proteins are able to fight off infection from the virus and keep the person from getting COVID-19.
The vaccines are about 95% effective at keeping people from getting sick with COVID-19; as a result, there’s a five percent of still getting sick, Walkes said, so it will still be important for vaccinated people to wear masks, wash hands and avoid crowds.
Herd immunity, which occurs when enough people are immune to an illness that the illness cannot spread, for COVID-19 will not be achieved through more people getting sick, Walkes said. Right now, scientists think that people who have had COVID-19 are immune for approximately three months, so those people are still advised to get the vaccine.
In the county’s draft vaccination plan, Phase 1A, includes front-line hospital workers, urgent care workers, first responders, last responders, school nurses and hospice workers.
“These initial vaccinated groups will serve to help immunize our essential workforce and care for our public, and they will also serve to inform the public of the vaccine’s safety,” Walkes said.
Phase 1B includes people 65 years of age and older, as well as people over 16 years old with a chronic medical condition.
There are 14,746 people over the age of 65, and 70,499 people over the age of 16, Walkes said. There are 696 residents in long-term care facilities, and there are an estimated 2,300 healthcare workers in Bastrop County.
“As we move into phases two and three, when there's a broader supply of vaccine available, we will be able to reach out to a wider swath of the general population,” Walkes said.
As of Monday, 154 residents of Bastrop County have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a dashboard from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Vaccines will be made available to the public through a public-private sector partnership, using private offices, health care clinics and pharmacies in the near term but bringing on more vaccine providers as time goes on. Nursing home facilities have contracted with pharmacies in order to vaccinate staff and residents, and the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Department of State Health Services will conduct vaccine clinics for people in the first phase of vaccination. As the vaccine supply is more plentiful, Walkes said she expects to be able to use a mobile unit to provide vaccines to communities who may not be able to get into a city.
Late the night before Monday’s meeting, Walkes sent the commissioners a draft of the Bastrop County vaccination plan, modeled after the state plan, which includes information about tracking vaccine safety and the ways in which the plan can be flexible as vaccine availability “ebbs and flows.” The court discussed the draft and provided feedback for the final plan, which could be considered for action by the court at their next meeting on January 11.
County Judge Paul Pape recommended adding a section with information about where the vaccine will be available to each demographic group as it becomes available to them, as well as a timeline for vaccine distribution to the different phases.
“All of us are very excited about the prospects of a safe and effective vaccine, and I hope that everybody will take the vaccine as soon as it is available to your demographic,” Pape said.
COVID-19 cases: 470 active, 3,054 recovered
As of Monday morning, Bastrop County reported a total of 2,844 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and 722 probable cases, according to the county’s dashboard.
The probable case count includes cases where an individual has either had a positive antigen "rapid" test, or had known exposure to someone with the virus and has symptoms of COVID-19.
So far, 3,054 people have recovered from the illness in Bastrop County, leaving 470 active cases.
At the same time last week, the county’s total number of confirmed cases was 2,765 and the total number of probable cases was 658, with 2,924 total recoveries and 459 active cases.
The dashboard reports two more COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the number of deaths in Bastrop County due to the illness to 42.
As of Monday, 154 residents of Bastrop County have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a dashboard from the Texas Department of State Health Services, found at dshs.texas.gov/news/updates.shtm.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) weekly update last Tuesday, the county’s two community testing sites in Bastrop and Elgin performed 550 tests between December 15 and December 21. The positivity rate for the molecular PCR tests given at the county testing sites between these dates is 10.2%.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the 11-county Trauma Service Area O, which includes Bastrop and Travis counties, was at 8.54% as of last Tuesday, which is slightly higher than the previous week but still the lowest in the state, the update from OEM said.
“Please continue minimizing the spread of COVID-19 by following CDC guidelines by following the three W's: wearing masks properly, washing hands thoroughly, and watching social distancing,” last week’s post said. “Consider keeping your gatherings small and holding them outdoors or limiting them to those that live within your household.”
For more information about receiving a test at one of these county testing sites, visit www.bastropcountycovid19.org or call 512-972-5560. For local questions about COVID-19, call the Bastrop County hotline at 512-303-4300.
For the latest update, posted each Tuesday, visit @BastropCountyOEM on Facebook.
According to the City of Austin’s COVID-19 dashboard, found at www.austintexas.gov/covid19, the portion of the 78621 zip code in Travis County has reported 246 cases. Last week, this number was 244.
The City of Austin dashboard also includes information about hospitalized patients in the five-county Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), in addition to the case numbers for Austin and Travis County. The MSA includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson County.
As of Monday afternoon, the MSA has 422 inpatients in the region’s hospitals, with 132 patients in the intensive care units (ICU) and 77 ventilators in use.
Last week, 316 people were in the hospital as inpatients due to COVID-19, 84 patients were in the ICU and 47 ventilators were in use.
In May, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began gathering and reporting data from nursing homes about the number of confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 in residents and staff. As of Monday, data was available through the week ending on December 13 at data.cms.gov.
Since August 2, the Elgin Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has reported no new confirmed COVID-19 cases or deaths among residents, and no new staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since last week. A total of 36 residents and 21 staff members have been confirmed with COVID-19 over the 27 weeks of data reported so far, and six residents have died due to the virus.
In early September, Elgin ISD launched a school district dashboard of daily reported COVID-19 cases by campus, found online at www.elginisd.net/Page/6358.
Four cases of COVID-19 were reported since last Monday. This includes two people at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, one person at Elgin Middle School and one person at Neidig Elementary School.
So far, a total of 19 cases have been reported in December at Elgin ISD.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, www.bop.gov/coronavirus, the federal correctional institution in Bastrop has 62 inmates and 26 staff members with active cases of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon. Last week, 108 inmates and 25 staff members had active cases. One inmate has died of COVID-19, and 408 inmates and four staff members have recovered so far.