NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Despite Surging COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Deep East Texas Won't Receive Vaccine Until Next Week

Downtown Lufkin, Texas
Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Lufkin is the seat of Angelina County where officials are rolling back reopenings because of surging COVID-19 hosptializations.

As Texas Gov. Grey Abbott reiterated on Thursday that he wouldn’t require another statewide shutdown, some counties in Deep East Texas are planning their own rollbacks to previous business reopenings. Hospital intensive care units in several counties, including Angelina and Polk, surpassed the 15% threshold for COVID-19 patients set by the state. These counties will reduce capacity in restaurants, gyms, retail stores and other businesses where people gather.

Sharon Shaw is administrator of the Angelina Counties and Cities Health District. She told Texas Standard that COVID fatigue, inconsistentmask-wearing, lack of exposure to the consequences of COVID-19, as well as stubbornness, have all likely contributed to the surge in cases.

“You don’t really see the impacts unless you’re in a situation where you’re in a school or health care entity or a hospital,” Shaw said. “I hate to say that, but that’s the reality of it all, and I think this, we’re experiencing human nature.”

That’s led to a surge in coronavirus cases – 80-100 new cases a day in Angelina County, alone, over the last three weeks, she says. The county’s population is around 87,000.

Some relief is on the way, though. Hospitals in Deep East Texas will begin to receive doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine starting next week. The first wave of doses went to larger hospitals this week, in part because they have the ability to manage the cold storage needed to keep that vaccine viable. Shaw’s region missed out on this first wave, but she says not everyone can be first.

I have no problem with being four or five days behind. We’ve been in this thing for 11 months now, and we need to be patient,” she said. “We are strategically ready and a vaccine will come when it’s our turn.”

She is looking forward to the next vaccine, developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, which doesn’t require super-cold storage. She expects that to reach rural areas more easily.

Still, she says, heading into the Christmas holiday, we can’t just rely on the vaccine to slow the pandemic.

“I just hope folks be a little more cautious, wear that mask, don’t make that visit if you don’t have to, use your technology and let’s all stay safe for at least the next four to six weeks while the vaccine unrolls,” Shaw said.