CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The City-County health department is ramping up its local efforts in the fight against COVID-19.
During Tuesday's city council meeting, City Manager Peter Zanoni said an $18 million grant recently awarded to the city will be used to hire temporary staff for the health department. Up to 1,000 people will be hired to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines, and with that extra staff, the health department will beef up the vaccination clinic at La Palmera mall.
The health department is also looking at other vaccination venues and non-venues. Those non-venues would include pop-up clinics at places like churches and even local taquerias.
The Teen Mobile Vaccination Program, or Teen MVP, will also launch on September 1. Under that program, the city will set up vaccination clinics at Corpus Christi high schools and middle schools. Prior to the vaccination date, permission slips will be sent home to parents so they can give the 'okay' for their child to be vaccinated.
Vaccine administration remains the primary focus of the Corpus Christi City Council and Nueces County Health District.
"I've taken a lot of hits for this. I've lost some friends over this., but I am encouraging everyone to get vaccinated," said Pulsey. "It's time for us to get our head out of the sand."
Pusley pleaded with the public to consider vaccinating against COVID-19 as soon as possible.
"We need, as leaders in this community, to encourage people to get vaccinated," said Pusley. "For God's sake we don't want to see another economic shutdown of our city, of our state, and of our country. There will be dire consequences if that happens again. So please, if you are listening to my voice and you're not vaccinated, please do so unless your doctor tells you - you shouldn't."
Why the big push to get shots in arms?
Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez underscored the need during a city council presentation on the COVID-19 surge currently hitting the city.
Rodriguez said last week, Corpus Christi was averaging 600 cases a day. Cases began climbing with the week of July 4. That week, Nueces county reported 199 COVID-19 cases, and by the first week of August, we had 2,180 cases reported.
Another alarming trend is the number of cases involving children and young adults. Currently the age group of 0-29 accounts for 50% of cases. The Delta variant accounts for a large number of those cases.
Annette Rodriguez says the Food and Drug Administration's final approval of the Pfizer vaccine could be a major game changer in the COVID-19 fight. City Manager Peter Zanoni added that this may push more employers to mandate vaccines for their employees. He said there will be discussions with the city attorney about this.
Rodriguez also spoke about the rise in hospitalizations due to the virus.
As of August 23, Nueces County had 428 people hospitalized with COVID-19 with 104 of those in ICU.
Rodriguez told the city council that she expects Nueces County will surpass the 2020 summer peak of 430 hospitalizations.
The city council was also updated on the number of breakthrough cases in Nueces County. These are people who were fully vaccinated and still got the virus.
The public health director told the city council that there are currently 574 local breakthrough cases. Of those, 65 are hospitalized, and 16 have died.
A breakdown was given on what vaccines those breakthrough patients had received.
From the fully-vaccinated breakthrough cases, 276 were given the Moderna vaccine, 196 received Pfizer's vaccine and 101 had been given Johnson & Johnson's shot.
A third shot for immuno-compromised people has also recently been added to the health department's tool box. Rodriguez said she expects the booster shot for all people will become available on the week of September 20. Once that booster shot is approved, people who are fully vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer can get the booster 8 months after their second shot.
What about those who have refused to get vaccinated?
Rodriguez says she believes the FDA's final approval of the Pfizer vaccine will change some minds. Full approval means the vaccine was found to be very effective.
There could also be a big change to the immunization requirements for children returning to school. Rodriguez says this could happen for the next school year.
The city council was also told that the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices can mandate adding COVID-19 vaccines to the list of shots required for children heading back to school. While it hasn't happened yet, Rodriguez says she believes that will eventually get approved for a later time.
With 93 percent of current cases believed to be due to the Delta variant, Rodriguez believes the FDA's approval of the Pfizer vaccine will push more private companies and universities toward vaccination mandates. The public health director told council members that COVID-19 will eventually be controlled but it won't go away.
She believes the virus will become endemic. That means it will become another annual virus, like the flu virus.
COVID-19 vaccinations will probably become a yearly routine.
Corpus Christi Fire Chief Robert Rocha also gave an update on the in-home vaccination program that recently kicked off. In the last week, Rocha says 300 people were vaccinated.
The fire department is using reverse alert and direct calling to identify those who want a vaccine.