Aransas County commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, Feb. 8, heard a presentation from Aransas County COVID-19 Task Force members Rick McLester and Patricia Arnold regarding the organization, timing and administration of available COVID-19 vaccines for residents of Aransas County.

McLester, who is the county’s emergency management coordinator (EMC), noted the distribution of the vaccine, as well as many of the issues addressed during this pandemic, have been similar to what local authorities faced after Hurricane Harvey. Local officials faced situations after Harvey, and now, during the pandemic, that have not been faced in the past.

“Like after Harvey, we were flying the plane as we were building it,” he said.

McLester noted the county doesn’t have a health district, hospital district, or other central health department, and has to rely on the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Region 11 office in Harlingen.

He said when the pandemic began there was no PPE available, but now you can easily obtain whatever PPE is needed.

He said when testing began, one had to be symptomatic to get tested, but now tests are everywhere, noting there are numerous permanent testing sites, as well a mobile sites.

“Now we’re into the vaccine and seeing the same thing for the third time,” said McLester. “There isn’t enough vaccine (to meet demand).”

McLester said there are five counties in DSHS Region 11 that haven’t received any vaccines.

“There are strong voices in Aransas County pushing for us to get what we have,” he said. “We are coming up on a year (fighting this virus). We are on two to three conference calls each week discussing best practices to handle COVID-19.”

He then turned the presentation over to Arnold, the Executive Director for Aransas County Medical Services, Inc. (ACMSI), after noting Arnold handled the DSHS’s initial drive through vaccine clinic during which 300 doses were administered, with 24 hours notice.

“She mobilized 50 to 60 volunteers, two tents, and the list of people to be vaccinated,” said McLester.

Arnold said the ACMSI’s purpose is to assist the community in gaining access to needed services as an advocate and community resource.

“I am honored Judge (C.H. “Burt”) Mills and EMC Rick McLester called on us to assist with this pandemic,” she said.

Arnold reminded the court the state closed and consolidated its health departments many years ago, and Aransas County is now the most northern county in DSHS Region 11 district.

“Several DSHS Region 11 nurses and staff work remotely, and are in Aransas County once or twice a month at the ACMSI Enterprise Medical Complex,” said Arnold.

She noted, however, they have been closed due to needing personnel for COVID teams.

Arnold said the ACMSI joined the COVID Task Force to assist with education and awareness, which includes meeting with community leaders and those in the medical community to determine best practices during this pandemic.

She said she works with McLester setting up testing in Aransas County, which included PCR testing prior to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays so residents could get the required PCR test allowing them to see their loved ones in nursing homes or make informed decisions prior to traveling.

Arnold worked with DSHS to set up flu vaccine clinics to help better prepare for when the vaccine arrives here. That was accomplished with the help of the Rockport Police Department and volunteer fire departments.

“In mid-December we began hearing concerns from our medical community, non-profits, veterans, and residents regarding vaccines,” she said. “I requested names and phone numbers of individuals meeting the state’s required schedule. This list will be used to help show a need for vaccines and to help with distributing vaccines as they become available.

Residents on this list were contacted and referred to vaccine hubs, VA clinics, and pharmacies.

Arnold said, “At the request of DSHS Region 11, we helped sign up more providers in Aransas County so when vaccines are more readily available these providers would be ready.”

She said DSHS Region 11 continues to request vaccines for our community as we are considered a high priority county.

Recalling the initial drive through vaccine clinic, Arnold said Gary Barney, of the Texas Department of Emergency Management, DSHS Medical Director Dr. Emilie Prot, and DSHS Region 11 staff, along with many Aransas County volunteers, where at the site.

“I was the designated Task Force Leader for this vaccine clinic. I provided the call list and coordinated events on scene. In the review process we addressed lessons learned and best practices to better prepare for second dose allocation and possible future vaccines,” said Arnold.

She noted, unfortunately, that Dr. Prot received emails making accusations that things were handled inappropriately, and could have jeopardized Aransas County’s opportunity for future vaccines.

“I assure you the list met all state requirements and was used fairly,” said Arnold.

She said residents are scared and concerned while looking to (local officials) to help reassure them, listen to them, and lead using accurate information in a respectful manner.

“Today we have 9,560 people on the registration link. We are advocating daily for more vaccines, and we encourage all citizens to continue to search for vaccines and get in line if you are able to,” said Arnold. “Rockport HEB pharmacy, Walgreens pharmacy, and South Texas Family Planning have done an amazing job, and they continue to request more vaccines.

“The supply and demand will one day catch up (like toilet paper finally did).”

She noted the DSHS will bring second doses only in the next few weeks.

“It is my goal to show them our community can handle the task of being a mini-vaccine hub,” said Arnold. “Our volunteers stand ready to help our community. Please remember to thank the boots on the ground and most importantly, please be patient.”

Additional vaccine information

Residents are invited to put their name and phone number on a list to be contacted for future vaccination events. Please visit https://forms.gle/kLvfut9h1S7nC2759 to sign up. If a resident does not have access to a computer, they should send a letter with their name and contact phone number to: Vaccination, Aransas County, 2840 Hwy. 35 N. Rockport, TX 78382.

Information will not be taken by phone from any entities.

This list is for priorities 1A and 1B only. This program is separate from the vaccinations being offered by local pharmacies and others. This list does not guarantee anyone the vaccine; it simply lets organizers know you need the vaccine.

As a reminder, residents are not restricted to receiving the vaccine within the Aransas County. For information about vaccination sites in Texas, visit https://www.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html. - a site maintained by the Texas Departments of Emergency Management and State Health Services.

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