Two weeks after the state health department declared all Texan adults eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, there’s definite cause for optimism that the rising number of local residents protected from the coronavirus may mean the worst of the global pandemic could finally be behind us. Local vaccinations continue at a steady pace, and residents got the good news on Wednesday that the federal government will keep giving out doses for an extra month at its NRG Park mega-clinic.
But just because it's easier than ever to get a vaccine, Gov. Greg Abbott wants Texans to know he won't tolerate any government body or business that gets state funding to ask for proof of vaccinations.
From H-E-B to CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, there are plenty of private businesses getting shots into arms with new appointments becoming available on a daily basis in addition to the shots being given by local hospital chains. Both the Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health are steadily working through their respective vaccine waitlists, and when the city health department makes new appointments available every few days they’re not vanishing in the blink of an eye like they were in the early, bumpier days of the vaccine rollout.
As of Thursday, over 1.3 million Harris County residents had gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine according to the Department of State Health Services, and over 727,000 had been fully vaccinated. Harris County Public Health reported 431 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and an additional four deaths, putting the county’s total cumulative case count at 381,083 and the local death toll at 3,759.
The local vaccination effort got another boost Wednesday when the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it’d extend the stay of its vaccine super-clinic at NRG Park that’s been pumping out 6,000 doses a day since late February. Originally opened by FEMA back on February 24, the federally-run clinic planned to only offer shots for six weeks. Now, the site will stay up and running through May 18.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo celebrated the decision in a tweet, highlighting the letter she and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sent FEMA on March 24 requesting the clinic stay in town longer than the originally planned six weeks (even though they asked it to keep running through the end of May).
NEW:@FEMA and @TDEM have agreed to extend our NRG Community Vaccination Site by 4 weeks. @SylvesterTurner and I asked, and they delivered. Our NRG operation continues breaking records in delivering vaccines. Let's keep a good thing going.— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) April 7, 2021
Abbott touted the FEMA clinic extension in a statement of his own, but he did highlight that while FEMA agreed to extend their clinics in Houston, Dallas and Arlington, the agency didn’t answer his call to set up a clinic in San Antonio at the Alamodome. And in a clear jab at his Democratic foes, Abbott made sure to mention that his administration sent its request to FEMA on March 22, two days before Hidalgo and Turner sent their letter.
“Thank you to FEMA for extending the use of federal personnel at these mass vaccination sites through the middle of May,” Abbott wrote. “Where the federal government falls short, Texas will step in by providing the supplies and vaccine doses needed to keep these successful sites operational,” he continued.
Abbott also made clear that the state of Texas won’t allow any organization under its umbrella of influence to mandate vaccinations on his watch, as he issued an executive order Tuesday banning so-called “vaccine passports.” The move came amid growing speculation about whether or not business owners in some parts of the country may start requiring customers to prove they’ve been vaccinated before entering their premises or attending big in-person events, or that the federal government might recommend that transportation providers require travelers to show proof of vaccination to travel without any quarantining before or afterward.
“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives,” Abbott said in a video announcing his executive order.
Abbott’s latest decree bans any “state agencies or political subdivisions in Texas” from making any kind of vaccine requirement, and forbids any organization that gets public funding “from requiring consumers to provide documentation of vaccine status in order to receive any service or enter any place.
“We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health — and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms,” Abbott said.
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