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Posts published in “Columns”

Precinct 2 Brings Vaccines to You

By Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia

You may have noticed recently that there’s no longer a vaccine waitlist at vaccine mega-sites like Harris County’s at NRG Stadium. Now, at ReadyHarris.org you can pick the day and time that works best for you, and those who want a COVID vaccination don’t have to spend hours and stress waiting online for the very moment slots open. Most vaccination sites now are accepting walk-ins without previous registration and appointments! Just as Precinct 2 mobilized quickly for the first wave of vaccinations, now we’re quickly adjusting to reach and vaccinate people who might be less able to visit shot sites and are perhaps hesitant about getting the shots that will save lives.

Many Precinct 2 residents can’t get to mega-sites like NRG Stadium twice in a month for their shots. For readers of Northeast News, Highlands Star-Crosby Courier, Barbers Hill-Dayton Press, or North Channel Star, committing three or more hours on a workday to get to a vaccine site isn’t feasible. Worse yet, many others don’t have access to effective transportation and struggle with limited Metro routes, especially at the outer edges of our precinct.

For these reasons, I’ve tasked the Precinct 2 team to bring vaccines directly to the communities I serve.

COUNTY CONNECTION: Have You Signed Up for a Vaccine Yet?

By Judge Lina Hidalgo

Last week, I followed my own advice and got vaccinated! I want to thank every frontline health worker and Harris County Public Health employee who has been working to save lives for the past year. Now more than ever we have reason to be hopeful and proud of the work we’re doing together to beat the coronavirus. More than 1 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Harris County. Over 750,000 people have signed up for our waitlist and our call center has fielded more than half a million calls and registered over 27,000 people by phone. Our Health Department is vaccinating a larger proportion of vulnerable groups compared to others. This is what progress looks like.

But as County Judge it’s my job to look beyond the immediate challenges of limited supply of vaccines and toward our next obstacle. If you look around the corner you’ll see evidence that there is a very large proportion of our community that remains wary of getting vaccinated. One national survey shows that up to 40% of Texans say they will either not get a COVID-19 vaccine or are undecided on whether or not to do so. So here’s the bottom line — Harris County will never reach herd immunity if up to 40% of our residents refuse to get vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy is a clear and present danger to our collective health and our ability to pull through this crisis. We need to do more than just offer vaccines and hope folks will show up to receive it.

THE POSTSCRIPT: Out Like a Lion

By Carrie Classon

March is winding down and my sister-in-law, Lori, is going with it.

There is too much food and too many flowers because that is what we do when someone is dying, when we don’t know what else to do as, gradually, the unthinkable becomes accepted and even ordinary. We make more food and bring more flowers. But there is too little time. There is always too little time.

Lori is spending most of the time she has left sleeping, which means she is not in pain but also that no one can talk with her and we miss her already, while she is here among us.

There are circles of grief, as I’ve heard it explained. Her husband, Robert, is at the center, and one ring out are her children and my husband, her brother. I am a bit further out in orbit, in Lori’s solar system of sorrow, missing her ready laugh and irreverent observations.

We are so close to beating the virus

We are Texans, and the concept of freedom is an essential piece of our identity. We all want the freedom to go out to eat and to socialize, the freedom for our economy and our schools to open without the fear of getting deathly ill, the freedom to use amazing science and vaccine developments to our full advantage. But taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working in the name of personal freedom won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy. The state’s decision on Tuesday to end the statewide mask mandate and increase business capacity to 100% is a threat to all of the sacrifices and progress we’ve made, as well as to everyone who has not yet received a vaccine. At best, Tuesday’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid.

Every time COVID-19 public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations. If we start the climb now, we’d be starting from the highest starting point ever when it comes to our hospital population, an unacceptable and dangerous proposition. Even more troubling is the revelation that Houston has the unfortunate distinction of being the only city recording every major strain of COVID-19. Our positivity rate is still sky high and moving up, not down — we’re now at 13% positivity. We’re still seeing hundreds of new cases a day. With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re finally inching closer to the finish line of this deadly, destructive pandemic — now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve. We’re able to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel now because of the common sense steps we’ve taken to prevent the spread of this virus, like wearing masks. We can’t take one step forward just to take two steps back.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo: “This is not the time to give up”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

This Wednesday, the state’s decision to open everything at 100% and eliminate the mask mandate comes into effect.

For the vast majority of the community who have been following public health recommendations from the beginning, the state’s ending COVID-19 precautions is a gut punch. As I said in a recent TIME Magazine Op-Ed:

“It is a heavy burden for a community to carry, to continue to sacrifice in spite of false hopes being offered at the highest levels of the state… I hope that people of this county won’t allow pandemic politics to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and that we won’t throw away a year of pain and sacrifice so that politicians can have their ‘mission accomplished’ moment.”

I have received a lot of questions about what that means for Texans, and what our community should do.

The bottom line is this: This is not the time to give up.

Our positivity rate is sky high and still rising.

Just Between Us: One Thing I Didn’t Expect About Motherhood

By Kristan Hoffman

One Thing I Didn’t Expect About Motherhood: How much I would think about bodies. My body. My children’s bodies. The way they grow, stretch, scar and heal. Their softness and their strength. Through pregnancy, birth and recovery, I’ve become more forgiving toward my body, though it hasn’t always felt like mine. Its changes aren’t easy to accept, nor are the demands to share it so frequently. I marvel at my children, so awkward and elegant. Why are we drawn to embrace so often? Why does touch offer such comfort? I am not religious, but since becoming a mother, I have learned to worship. Our bodies are holy.

This piece was originally published in the New York Times in July 2020 as part of their “Modern Love: Tiny Love Stories” series. Reprinted with permission.

Kristan Hoffman is the daughter of this newspaper’s publishers, an author, and a columnist for this newspaper.

CAPITAL HIGHLIGHTS: Supplemental funding legislation draws from “Rainy Day Fund”

By Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — A few of the funding priorities expressed by the executive, legislative and judicial branches are not covered in Senate Bill 2, the state’s tentatively approved appropriations bill for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

So, on March 13, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 500, $6 billion in supplemental funding to plug many holes. Some $4.3 billion of the total would be taken out of the Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund. Authored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the legislation proposes the following allocations:

• $3 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery expenses;

• $2.1 billion to address the Medicaid shortfall;

• $100 million for school safety, with an amendment that gives districts greater flexibility on the type of safety equipment they can buy;

• $300 million to improve state hospital facilities;

• $542 million to address pension liabilities for the Teacher Retirement System and provide retired teachers a “13th check” up to $500;

Charlotte’s Web: Civic Involvement

By Charlotte Jackson

Earlier this week, I served as the Presiding Judge at one of the Precincts located in Senate District 6. There were only 33 eligible voters who cast their ballot at our location, as well as three who needed to visit another location. In addition, we had eight local residents who took time out of their busy day to stop in to vote. Unfortunately, they reside in Senate District 15 and were not eligible to vote in this Special Election.

Several of those who voted asked how were the Election Workers chosen. Some of them did not realize the workers were paid. Some were under the misconception that you had to be retired to work. As we explained to them, I realized that perhaps there were others with these same questions.

If you are a Registered Voter, you can contact the Harris County Clerk’s Office and ask to be added to the list of those who are interested in working future elections. Typically, if your voting precinct has an elected Precinct Chair, they are contacted to serve as the Presiding Judge for the upcoming election. They are then responsible for recruiting workers.

People ask why would someone spend 12 – 14 hours on Election Day working for $10 an hour. To me, it is something that I learned early in life. When I was a Senior at North Shore Senior High, my Government Teacher, Ms Mary Lou Dillard, handed each student an application to become a registered voter. She did this the first week of our Senior year. She then returned it to us 30 days before our 18th birthday so we could verify that the information was still correct. Then she mailed it to the County Clerk’s Office. She taught us throughout that year that if you did not take the time to vote, you would not have the right to complain is the elected leaders did not work for you.

Charlotte’s Web: Community Angels in Channelview

In a world where so many people are stressed out and have way too much on their “plate”, I am thankful for those who do not understand the word “no”. Last week, our community was rocked with the horror of the Channelview Band bus accident, yet in the midst of this, we all saw some amazing people step up as well as those who just stay ready to help.

From the pastors and ministers involved with the Channelview Ministry Team, to the School Board Members, Band Alumni and community members, love was felt EVERYWHERE. I cannot say enough about how Superintendent Greg Ollis cares about the students and the community. He was running on prayers as I know he did not take time to eat. From the morning of the accident and continuing daily, he has been the lighthouse in the midst of the pain. There were several members of the Crisis Chaplaincy of Texas present and these individuals under the direction of Lunetta Mitchell were a blessing to the families who were waiting to hear from loved one. Among those volunteers was Diane Collette Pinkney, who happens to also be a bus driver for CISD. To say that Diane loves her job is an understatement.

Over the past decade, I have seen her pray for the children that she transports to and from school as well as support them in their activities and love on them as a surrogate grandmother.

School Board Members who continued to communicate with the community and be present to join the Prayer Gatherings for the students and families were invaluable. Steve Dennis is to be commended for the pride he has in the District and the Community. Even when he is not in the best of health, he is there to remind us to pray for the families and support the schools. Greg Johnstone, Patrick Lacy, Kyle Campbell, and the other board members.

Pastors such as Johnny Brady, Irvin Clark, Rob Morris, Byron Murray, Christopher Shackleford, Charlie Tutt and Kent Wilson are often referred to as my brothers because each one of them has been there for me over the years when I have needed a pastor to encourage or direct me in some way. Each of these amazing men where present last Tuesday as we waited on the students.

Truly what blessed me even more was the young people who showed up to support the students. Nico Izaguirre is a 2017 graduate of Channelview High School as well as a current student at San Jacinto College and he was present to comfort and support the families as we waited on the bus to arrive. Later that evening he was one of the young adults who led the group in prayer for the healing of the group. It is no surprise that he and his mom were among the supporters at Chick-fil-A on Tuesday. Joseph DeCola who operates both the Wallisville and the I-10 locations is another angel among us. He donated all profit from both locations and it totaled more than $8400 to help the Channelview Band. Other restaurants in the area are planning similar fundraisers.

While others may think they live in the best community, those of us who are a part of the North Channel Area truly are the most blessed. I love you and there is NOTHING you can do about it.

NORTH CHANNEL CHAMBER: Mattress Mack speaks at luncheon

mattress mackBy Gilbert Hoffman

I’ve known Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale since about 1980, when we both arrived in Houston from “up north” — he Dallas, me Pennsylvania. Over the years, I have heard him speak dozen of times, yet I never tire of his message, and his delivery. His energy, dedication, and focus is amazing for a man with 300 employees, and major health problems.

His message is about hard work as the key to success, and the importance of the customer and his or her interests.

Over the years, his “stump speech” has been refined, and now it is not just about his life’s story of creating a successful business, but more about the trials, challenges, and triumphs he and his family faced along the way, and the importance of relationships.

Do you know anyone else as optimistic, with a big smile, who has had their building set on fire by an arsonist, undergone major heart surgery, and had a daughter with a serious debilitating disease, OCD?

Mack paced the stage of the San Jacinto Monument Room last Friday, as he told his story to an enthralled room of Chamber members and guests.

Texas: Botsky’s

botskys hot dogBy Russell A. Graves

The menu speaks volumes: MacDaddy & Cheese, Slawdog Millionaire, and other fun and catchy names hint at the fun you’ll have in this downtown Lake Charles, Louisiana eatery long before the hot dogs are delivered to your table.

This unique eatery does one thing and does it remarkably well. They specialize in hot dogs.

I parked just down the block on Pujo Street and headed west towards the place and one of the first things I noticed was the simple sign hung from the vintage building’s facade. It features a mythical creature: the jackalope.

This is my kind of place.