Written by: Leonard Parker | Houston Business News | 21st April
The Houston Health Department will open up a second drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site in a parking lot near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, health officials said Monday.
HHD Director Dr. Stephen Williams said that site would be used to administer second doses, and that he anticipated more sites opening soon.
“We anticipate in the future, that we’ll be able to deploy mobile sites that will get more specifically in communities," he said. "We’ll continue to target those that are most vulnerable.”
The city first opened a drive-thru vaccination site at Delmar Stadium earlier this year.
That location will remain in use just for eligible first doses, Williams said.
The Bayou Event Center will continue to serve as a fixed site, and will serve about 1,000 people every day except Sunday, he added.
The news comes as city officials remain concerned about a possible fourth surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the region, after Gov. Greg Abbott announced the lifting of a statewide mask mandate, effective Wednesday.
Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, said that policy change — along with an increased presence of variants appearing in the city’s wastewater — has him worried.
“The U.K. variant is the one which spreads much more easily, and we’re seeing that with the South African and the Brazilian one as well, they spread much more easily," Persse said. "The race is on to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the U.K. variant is able to take over and cause us to have another surge.”
Twenty-one of the city’s 39 wastewater treatment plants had remnants of the U.K. variant in early February, Persse said. By the end of February, 31 of the 39 plants detected it, indicating that the variant is actively spreading.
Gov. Abbott announced he was lifting COVID-19 restrictions at a press conference last week, including rescinding the mask mandate and eliminating restaurant and bar occupancy limits.
Some applauded the decision, including the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, which argued that it would bring local restaurant owners needed relief.
“That is gonna be tremendous, and very very necessary for our industry,” Melissa Stewart, executive director of the association, said last week. “Just being able to open up and really accommodate all of the folks who like to be there would be wonderful for our industry."
But the move has been met with pushback from other bars and restaurants who say they're keeping their own mandates in place, as Texas Standard reported.
The lifted mandates have also led to additional controversy in Houston, after a local club advertised a “mask off party” this Wednesday, when the statewide mandate lifts.
Concrete Cowboy on Washington Avenue was sharply criticized this weekend by local and state leaders for advertising the party on its social media.
But Mayor Sylvestor Turner on Monday said the club reversed course, and sent a letter to the city informing Turner that the party is not only canceled, but that the club itself would remain closed Wednesday out of concerns for public safety.
Turner said he wants all businesses to not just open, but thrive when they are open — a move he said would be impossible with another surge in cases.
“It’s one thing for the businesses to be all the way open," Turner said. "But I do want people to encourage people to wear their masks. And I want to thank Concrete Cowboy.”
The mayor added that he believed the city’s local COVID-19 status will be in “much better shape” in two months, thanks to vaccinations.
But he reiterated that the worst isn't over.
“At the very minimum, please keep your mask on," he said. "That protects you from me, and me from you. So, let me just encourage you to do that as things open up, lets say as of Wednesday, going forward, it’s just in everybody’s best interest to do that.”
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