This summer has seen the Delta variant of the coronavirus continue to spread, sending Texas hospitalization rates surging more than 300% in the past month, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). State leaders are asking county judges, mayors and health care leaders to echo the message that COVID-19 vaccinations are safe, effective and readily available in attempts to increase the state’s vaccination rate. In a call with local officials in late July, Dr. John Hellerstedt of DSHS stressed the aggressiveness of the Delta variant and the need to get as many Texans vaccinated as possible. Days later, Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) stressed the same message in a letter to county and city leaders suggesting they use their resources and federal funding for COVID response. As of Aug. 14, 54.2 percent of Texans have received at least one vaccine dose and 45.1 percent are fully vaccinated.
On August 25, Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order (GA-39), which combined several existing orders regarding the state’s COVID-19 response. Of interest to county officials, the order provides that no governmental entity can compel an individual to receive the vaccine or implement a policy to require documentation of a vaccine to receive any service or enter any place. "Vaccine requirements and exemptions have historically been determined by the legislature, and their involvement is particularly important to avoid a patchwork of vaccine mandates across Texas," said Governor Abbott. The Governor also added the issue of whether any state or local governmental entities in Texas can mandate that an individual receive a COVID-19 vaccine and, if so, what exemptions should apply to such mandate to the agenda of the Second Called Session of the legislature.
In response to the current surge of COVID-19 cases, Abbott has directed TDEM and DSHS to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers, and he recently increased the number of infusion centers across the state. These centers, equipped with Regeneron’s monoclonal antibodies, will treat COVID-19 patients with therapeutic drugs that can decrease the likelihood of an individual requiring hospitalization. Additionally, Abbott has directed DSHS to deploy 2,500 additional medical personnel to help staff health care facilities.
TDEM has instructed local entities to use the federal funding received for COVID-19 response from the American Rescue Plan through the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which allow for enhanced-staffing expenses at hospitals and premium pay for essential workers. Recipients of the funding have been encouraged to reach out to TDEM should they need assistance.
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