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EDITORIAL: Slow vaccine rollout keeps COVID in charge, for now

EDITORIAL: Slow vaccine rollout keeps COVID in charge, for now

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On Dec. 17, about 80 health care workers at Ascension Providence Hospital in Waco became the first in McLennan County to receive Pfizer’s new COVID-19 vaccine. It was a feat symbolizing the hope that we’d somehow crossed a barrier and could look forward to the end of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

So far, 4,561 people have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in McLennan County. In that span, 3,647 new COVID-19 cases have been reported here. It certainly seems like we’re running to stand still , even though we know the vaccine will eventually win out.

For months local health officials have warned about exponential spread of the coronavirus, and how the holidays promised a grim future if we failed to follow guidelines to prevent it. In our daily call to the Waco- McLennan County Public Health District offices, spokesperson Kelly Craine is running out of ways to say that people just aren’t listening to CDC guidance. It doesn’t do much good to wear a mask to the grocery store, then take it off when people we don’t live with come over for dinner. Familial spread has been by far the single biggest lifeline of this virus for months. We relax around family and friends and the virus does the rest.

The winter wave of cases here began in early November and hasn’t slowed down. In the first nine days of 2021 we’ve seen 1,568 new cases and 25 deaths from COVID-19. Our seven-day rolling average positivity rate from testing is at a pandemic-high 23%. This past week we crossed the 20,000-case threshold , and our death toll reached 308 with six new deaths reported Saturday.

The mobile morgue, procured by the city of Waco to help store bodies, is filling up fast.

To date, 8% of the county’s population has tested positive for COVID-19. About 25% of those have come within the last month.

We are justified in our frustration of the slow rollout of vaccines in Waco and McLennan County. Governments upstream of us have not proven effective at getting shots into arms fast enough. The supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been limited here. Doses that make it to McLennan County don’t spend much time on shelves — they’re going straight into an abundant supply of willing people.

In the 24 days since the first vaccine was administered here, we’ve averaged 190 doses per day. At that rate it will take nearly three years to vaccinate the 198,642 people in McLennan County over the age of 16. As supplies increase, so will the number of people per day getting vaccinated.

And it is frustrating to see our local case counts remain so high for so long. We’re moving into the middle of January and the recent surges caused by holiday gatherings should subside. However, the 23% positivity rate suggests the virus remains rampant in the county. It also backs the continued statements of public health officials who say we’re not doing enough to prevent its spread.

For now, however, COVID-19 is moving rapidly throughout the community, so avoid gatherings, wash your hands frequently and wear a mask when in proximity to other people.

This past week the Tribune-Herald added vaccination totals to our Page 1 COVID-19 tracking box. We look forward to the day when that number is the only one growing in that space.

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