Following the report of four more deaths in the area, Wharton County now has the 9th highest case fatality rate in the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC) at 3.9%.
According to SETRAC, the total number of cases as of Dec. 13 is 1,816, with deaths totaling 71.
At the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Wharton County Commissioners Court Monday, Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath noted that “the numbers just keep going up.”
The general bed usage of the available hospital beds is at 35.7%, according to SETRAC. Out of the 14 beds in use, five are confirmed COVID-19 patients.
“The important thing is the hospitalizations,” Spenrath said. “That’s important because if you exceed 15%, it could rollback closing the bars and pushing restaurants back in the number of seating you can have. That’s an important number we are watching, but we are not in panic mode yet; it’s just something to be concerned about.”
Wharton EMS Director John Kowalik stressed the frequency of COVID-19-related emergency calls.
“We are receiving suspected COVID-19 cases everyday,” Kowalik told The County Gin. “We don’t know if they are positive or not when we get them. We can only treat them as a COVID case. It could be flu, but we don’t know until we find out later on if it was a true COVID case. We have to treat everyone like they have the virus for their safety and the safety of our medics.
“It’s a mix of critical care. When they start having breathing troubles is really, when people pick up the phone to call us and let us know, ‘Hey, something’s wrong; I need to go in.’
“We want people to call. If you can’t take yourself, call us. That’s what we’re here for.”
Wharton County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland told the commissioners Monday that a vaccine for first responders is imminent.
“We are working on the vaccine. It looks like it will be available for first responders by the end of the year,” he said, noting that there are two types available and the county is looking to receive approximately 1,000 doses for approximately 500 first responders.
The county is working with hospitals, healthcare providers and companies like CVS and Walgreens.”
After receiving the vaccine, a booster will be required to ensure a higher percentage of immunity, he explained.
“You will get a card that says you have the vaccine and when you need a booster, you will get that vaccine again. It’s 21 days and the other is 28 days for the booster. If you get the first one, you’d have a 50% chance to be vaccinated well against the virus and if you get the booster, it’s 98% chance you won’t get the virus,” Kirkland told the court. A lot of us aren’t real sure and nobody is, this is something that’s not tried out yet. It will be a long time before we have over 75% who have either been vaccinated or had the virus before we achieve herd immunity and that won’t happen until probably around the summer.”
Kowalik said the vaccine will be a blessing for his crews.
“As far as the COVID vaccine, the sooner the better. I’ll be first in line for it if I could be,” he told The Gin. “Anything that will protect my folks is welcome but it’s their choice as far as if they want to take or not. Overall, we will still take the same precautions that we currently have in place.”
Until then, Wharton County is offering free testing, hosted at the El Campo Civic Center tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and next Tuesday, Dec. 22 at the Wharton Civic Center.
Jessica Hartman contributed to this report.