Coronavirus

FEMA Set To Start Vaccinations At NRG As Commissioner Garcia Calls For Power Grid Secession

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday that Houston's new FEMA vaccine will be here for at least six weeks.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday that Houston's new FEMA vaccine will be here for at least six weeks. Screenshot
On Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner shared the good news that the massive COVID-19 vaccine super site run by the Federal Emergency Management Association is still set to open this week at NRG Stadium as planned. Meanwhile, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia asked Commissioners Court to start considering a Harris County exit from the Texas power grid, and another Texan politician got caught red-handed skipping town during the statewide blackouts.

One of the first FEMA-operated vaccine clinics in the country, the Houston site will be able to vaccinate 6,000 people each day (after a soft-launch on Tuesday), seven days a week for three weeks straight before it shifts to second doses.

All told, this center will be able to vaccinate a total of 126,000 Harris County residents in the weeks ahead, all of whom will be selected from the city and county’s vaccine waitlists.

That number is definitely impressive, but Hidalgo stressed as grateful as she is to have this much federal assistance, she’s been told we’ll need to see around nine million total vaccinations “in our broader region” to get this part of the state to herd immunity and anything close to normal pre-pandemic life.


“This site is a huge step, but to be clear, it is not Mission Accomplished,” Hidalgo said. “We must keep fighting for more supply, and you better believe that when we’ve reached 126,000 people, we’re gonna turn right around and ask FEMA to stay until the job is done.”

Hidalgo and Turner were joined by a laundry list of local Democrats from Congress and the Texas Legislature for a bit of (well-deserved) back-patting and celebration about the new vaccine site. All the politicos present Monday made sure to thank President Joe Biden and his administration in particular, and Turner wasn’t shy at all about lobbying Biden to pick Houston as one of his stops on a trip to Texas the president has hinted at.

click to enlarge Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants President Joe Biden to know he's more than welcome to visit the Bayou City. - SCREENSHOT
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants President Joe Biden to know he's more than welcome to visit the Bayou City.
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“Let me thank President Biden,” Turner said, “and I certainly look forward to his visit to the state of Texas, and hopefully right here in the city of Houston. He’s very much welcome, and I want him to know that his visit will not be a distraction at all.”

There won’t be any free-for-all, blink-and-it’s-gone sign up process for the FEMA vaccine clinic, Hidalgo and Turner stressed, explaining that this site will vaccinate folks who have signed up for either the City of Houston or Harris County vaccine wait list. Elderly residents and those who live in zip codes the city and county have identified as especially vulnerable to the coronavirus will be prioritized for these FEMA vaccinations.


In a news release, the Houston Health Department laid out the criteria both the city and county health departments will use to decide who gets a FEMA vaccine, and shared who can sign up for those waitlists and how to get added:

Houston Health Department

The Houston Health Department’s strategy for the NRG Park site will utilize its Area Agency Aging waitlist with the following prioritization criteria:
  • Priority 1 – People age 65 and older who live in a high-risk zip code,
  • Priority 2 – People age 65 years and older,
  • Priority 3 – People age 60-64 with underlying medical conditions who live in high risk zip codes, and
  • Priority 4 – People age 60-64 with underlying medical conditions.
Houston’s high risk zip codes are geographic areas with people more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness as identified by positivity rate, underlying health condition, economic, and social data.
The department’s waitlist remains open for people age 65 and older and people age 60 and older with chronic health conditions. Those who qualify may call the department’s Area Agency on Aging at 832-393-4301 to leave a voicemail with their name and phone number. Calls will be returned for screening and scheduling. An online registration portal for those who meet the criteria opens Tuesday at HoustonEmergency.org/covid19.

Harris County Public Health

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is providing initial vaccinations to those most at risk of exposure to COVID-19 that meet the State’s guidelines of 1A and 1B.

Harris County will utilize its current vaccination waitlist: https://vacstrac.hctx.net/landing or individuals can call 832-927-8787 (If registering online do not use Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge). Individuals who meet the criteria will be randomly selected from the following age cohorts prioritized first: 75+, 65 - 74, 55 - 64, 45 - 54, 35 - 44, 25 - 34, 25 - 34, and 16 – 24 (16+ due to Pfizer guidelines).

In addition to the age cohorts, HCPH will be prioritizing areas where there have been COVID health disparities (using the CDC’s social vulnerability index and where data shows there are 1) increased COVID cases or deaths and/or COVID undertesting).

click to enlarge Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia is ready to secede from the Texas power grid. - SCREENSHOT
Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia is ready to secede from the Texas power grid.
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Garcia touted the new clinic at Monday’s event: “Today is an example of good government at work,” he said.

The Precinct 2 commissioner also made news Monday for criticizing some parts of the government he said haven’t worked nearly as well lately, namely Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration, the Public Utility Commission and the state’s power grid operator ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas), which Garcia is blaming for the widespread blackouts that swept across Texas during the devastating winter storm.

Garcia is so ticked-off that on Monday he officially submitted an agenda item to Commissioners Court about looking into whether it’d be possible to take Harris County off of the Texas electric grid completely, joining Liberty County and other East Texas counties that are part of the East Coast’s power-sharing infrastructure.

In a statement, Garcia listed the sweeping blackouts as well as what he called Abbott’s failure to sufficiently respond to local disasters over the years (like the wave of power outages after a hard freeze in 2011 and chemical plant exposures across the county) as reasons why Harris County should look into seceding from the Lone Star grid.

“This agenda item is meant to explore how we in Harris County can take ownership of keeping residents safe, something the state has clearly shown it can’t be trusted to do itself,” Garcia wrote.

Even as warm weather has mercifully arrived, plenty of folks across the greater Houston area are still hurting from the horrific winter weather that first hit Texas last Monday. While nearly all area residents thankfully have electricity again by now, thousands of locals are contending with burst pipes and water damage.

Although the boil water notice for the city of Houston was lifted Sunday, Harris County Public Health announced Monday that “more than 300,000 residents” in unincorporated Harris County still needed to boil their water before consumption due to potential storm-induced contamination issues.

Hidalgo and Turner also discussed the joint city and county winter storm relief fund that’s already soliciting donations to help support local residents in need. The Houston Harris County Winter Storm Relief Fund will be administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston.

Turner said that corporations, nonprofits and everyday Houstonians who want to pitch in can find out how to donate at the relief fund’s website, which also has details on how residents can sign up to get text alerts about eligibility criteria to receive financial assistance once the city and county figure out who will qualify. Hidalgo said that the fund has already raised $2.25 million dollars.

Turner and Hidalgo definitely seem more focused on getting relief to Texans in need than our beleaguered state Attorney General Ken Paxton, the latest Texan politician to get busted for skipping out on his constituents during last week’s winter storm.

The Dallas Morning News broke the news Monday that Paxton flew to Utah on Wednesday to see Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, allegedly for a Very Important Meeting about the Google antitrust lawsuit both AGs are working on.

Democratic state Reps. Joe Moody and Chris Turner took Paxton to the woodshed for his Utah trip on Twitter Monday:

Paxton now joins fellow state-skippers Sen. Ted Cruz and Fort Bend County state Rep. Gary Gates in the club of Texas politicians who we know left for warmer pastures during our state’s storm-induced power crisis.

As of Sunday, Cruz’s Senate counterpart John Cornyn hadn’t been seen in public for days according to Austin’s KXAN. While Cornyn has tweeted-out a lot of links to resources for Texans in need, it’s a bit odd that he hasn’t yet popped up for even a quick photo-op at one of the many donation drives for storm victims that have been happening across the state.

Here’s hoping Texas’ most senior senator didn’t follow the lead of Cruz, Paxton or Gates and is merely keeping a low profile, toiling away in private on behalf of his state.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards