Today marks one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 vaccine

Dec. 14 marks the one-year anniversary of the FDA’s authorization of COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use.  For the first time since the pandemic began, the United States was able to have a proactive response to protecting people from the Corona virus. 

“This is a day to reflect on the marvel that it is that a year after the emergence of this new virus that vaccines could be developed, tested and deployed that are remarkably effective and safe,” said Dr. Farley Verner, health authority for Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. “And now over the year that these vaccines have been in use it is likely that over 200,000 deaths and untold numbers of hospitalizations have been prevented in the United States alone.” 

The local public health district received the first shipment of 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine Dec. 23, 2020, and began vaccinating first responders. Since that time, the health district has administered 64,006 doses of vaccine through mass vaccination clinics, drive-through clinics, mobile clinics, and its main clinic.

Currently, 51% of McLennan County residents ages 5 and up are fully vaccinated.

The health district offers the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccines Monday through Friday at the main clinic (225 W. Waco Dr.) and at mobile clinics throughout McLennan County. You can find the schedule at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email the ALW team — [email protected].

‘Shots for Souls’ COVID vaccinations set for Sunday

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District has partnered with area African American churches, the Waco NAACP, and VOICE to host a second “Shots for Souls” COVID-19 Vaccination Drive 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Health District, 225 W. Waco Dr.

Participants can choose from the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Adult vaccines, including boosters, and vaccines for children 5 years of age and older will be available. Lunch for the first 200 participants will be provided by the NAACP. Walk-ins are welcome and registration can be done on-line at or at 254-750-5460.  

“The holidays are fast approaching, and the health district is working with several organizations to get vaccines distributed just in time for the holidays,” said LaShonda Malrey-Horne, director of the health district. “The health district is collaborating with Waco NAACP, local Black churches, and VOICE Waco to offer vaccines to the East Waco community so families can enjoy the holiday season safely this year.”  

Vaccination is the most effective way to slow the spread of disease and significantly decrease hospitalizations and fatalities due to COVID-19. 

MCC honored for COVID response

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has recognized McLennan Community College for its outstanding efforts to respond to COVID-19.

MCC and nine other colleges and universities were recognized as Star Award recipients during THECB’s quarterly board meeting. MCC will be recognized again Dec. 2 during the 2021 Higher Education Leadership Conference in Austin.

The annual Star Awards are presented to institutions implementing exceptional contributions in achieving one or more of the state’s higher education goals. This year, awards recognized institutions’ efforts in response COVID-19.

Criteria for the awards were “a clear demonstration of how the institution implemented strategies to ensure the health, safety, and success of their campus and local community, partnerships with community-based organizations, and the innovative and creative nature of one or more of the strategies used,” according to THECB’s webpage.

“The success of our students was due to their resilience, determination, and talent,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “Every McLennan employee contributed to student success by tapping into their creativity and expertise to ensure our students had access to all the same services offered pre-pandemic. … The challenge is not over, but McLennan will not give up as we stand McLennan Together.”

MCC’s application provided several examples of the school’s efforts:

— Loaning ventilators, hospital beds, and PPE to community healthcare institutions;

— Developing online self-assessments, self-reporting forms, instructions on exposure and testing, and safety practice modules;

— Maintaining an online dashboard of reported, positive, and active cases updated daily;

— Providing the community with free drive-thru testing and vaccination clinics;

— Designing the “McLennan Together” communication campaign in response to student, employee, and community questions on safety protocols, instructional strategies, and student success activities;

— Implementing instructional solutions to ensure safety and success, including providing online, blended, and hyflex course formats, rotating students attending class in-person, collaborating with local partners on solutions for programs requiring clinical work, simulations, internships, and other in-person instruction;

— Providing creative solutions in response to COVID-19 hardships like a curbside food pantry service, a fundraising campaign supporting emergency fund scholarships, free parking lot WIFI, a technology loan program, and virtual mental health counseling;

— Producing virtual commencement ceremonies for all 2020 graduates; and

— Implementing a student debt-forgiveness program to encourage former students to re-enroll.

Other Star Award recipients were the University of Texas at Arlington, Houston Community College, Texas A&M University – Commerce, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Odessa College, University of Texas at Tyler, Sam Houston State University, Texas State Technical College, and Lone Star College – North Harris.

For more information about the awards, click here.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Our city wants your input on spending Rescue Plan funds

The City of Waco is receiving $34.7 million in federal COVID relief funds, and city leaders want community input on how to spend a portion of the funds.

Waco received $17.4 million in June from the American Rescue Plan and will receive a second payment next year for a total of $34.7 million.

“The City of Waco intends to use $15 million … for municipal purposes including improvements to infrastructure for Water, Wastewater, and WMARSS as well as for other infrastructure resiliency and backup projects,” says the City’s website.

The city plan also has set aside $17 million to provide direct assistance to households and businesses. The exact use of these funds will be determined based on community feedback using the Balancing Act Tool.

Council Member Kelly Palmer said: “The data collected from the tool will shape how we invest these funds in our communities. … The city will be gathering this data through the end of September.”

English Balancing Act Tool

Spanish Balancing Act Tool

The Balancing Act Tool allows you to allocate the $17 million to various categories of funding utilizing the available funds set aside for these purposes. “If you do not see any area in simulator, please add in your suggestions.” 

The American Rescue Plan Act is the $1.9 trillion act signed into law March 11 by President Biden. The Act contained direct relief to citizens, including the $1,400 stimulus checks received earlier this year, and $350 billion for eligible state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency created by the spread of COVID-19. This latter portion is providing the funds now available to Waco.

Meraki to offer COVID vaccinations in East Waco

Meraki Medical Associates LLP will begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations Friday, Aug. 20, at 1001 Dunbar Street in East Waco. The opening is planned in conjunction with August being National Immunization Awareness Month.

CEO Sophia Strother formed Meraki “to create access and awareness for communities of color in the East Waco,” she said. Meraki is Greek for doing something with soul, creativity, and love. “It’s important to always put something of yourself into what you’re doing, whatever it may be. We are a starting point for the sustained health of our community. We will be known for our compassion and ability to provide services to everyone we encounter with meraki.”

Strother is passionate about helping communities of color fight against COVID. After having over 10 family members directly affected by the virus, she decided she needed to take action. Partnering with Living Word Church of God in Christ, Meraki is set to open its clinic Aug. 20 to provide community-focused health awareness on the importance of vaccine-preventable diseases. It will provide vaccination clinics and educational opportunities statewide that will target underserved communities and special populations. 

Meraki is at 1001 Dunbar St., Waco. This building has housed Living Word Church of God in Christ, Meals on Wheels, and Community Food Pantry for all of 20 years. Meraki believes “every person deserves an opportunity to be given a health experience that inspires them and enhances their quality of life. The team hopes to partner with other faith-based organizations, community organizations and corporations to administer vaccinations to individuals 16 years and older.” Sophia is passionate about helping others through faith, knowledge, and resources. 

Aug. 20 Events at Meraki

11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Tour

11:30am – noon – Press Conference

Noon – 2 p.m. – Vaccination Clinic

Strother also owns a logistics company and was recently featured on HGTV’s “40 Year Old Property Virgin.” Connect with Sophia online here.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Financial choices: Convergent or divergent?

By Dexter Hall

Definition of divergent

1a: moving or extending in different directions from a common point: diverging from each other divergent paths.

Definition of convergent

1: tending to move toward one point or to approach each other: CONVERGING convergent lines

I have been on a personal journey with family and friends, as well as friends of friends, to ensure they have received their COVID-19 vaccination. I have shared with many that I am “2-Shots In” referring to the Moderna vaccination. 

More importantly, I have shared how this is helping me to move past the pandemic, while still using safe protocols. I’m beginning to do the things I enjoy most — things I have been inhibited from doing during the pandemic, such as travel, gatherings, concerts, and many more.

Prosper Waco’s Samer Nsairat (l-r), Dexter Hall, and Sammy Salazar staff a booth during the Juneteenth Family Fun Day that provided information for the Bank On initiative. Hall leads Prosper Waco’s financial security efforts.

As we all move forward, I ponder which way our community will go and what will be left behind. Are we diverging or converging post-pandemic? Which path will we take?

Financially, each path carries its own weight of issues — some with good prospects and some with not-so-good prospects. 

COVID-19 forced us all to work together, to converge, if we were to survive the health and economic apocalypse that could have engulfed us. We worked together for the greater good. During this convergence, COVID-19 helped uncover mass amounts of disparity in our community regarding health, education, and financial and economic security. Some of us were not surprised at all by these disparities because this is and has been our lived experience via work, life, or in my case both.

As these long-held disparities in financial and economic security were displayed openly for all to see, there was a movement or convergence of government, community, nonprofits, business leaders, and others. They came together to develop many initiatives, in some cases first-of-their-kind programming to help the LMI (low-to-moderate income) members of our community. These safety nets ensured the bottom didn’t drop out of our economic floor, which would have been catastrophic for all, including the “haves.”

COVID-19 put us all on a converging path of economic survivability and showed how working together provides a brighter path for our most vulnerable community members and also works for ALL Wacoans.

As we resume our pre-pandemic normal, we tend to diverge, to move away from working together, back to our corners, and away from our common goal of fighting COVID-19. I wonder what will be lost that was gained during our fight. And, as in any war, what will the spoils be? 

Will we forget the financial and economic disparities that were put on display as many in our minority communities lost their jobs with no economic safety net?

Will we forget the struggles of our minority small business owners who lacked access to capital prior to COVID-19 and saw greater losses during the pandemic than their counterparts?

Will we forget how they asked for and still need “Targeted Technical Assistance” that works for them and not for the provider?

Will we forget the housing needs of our marginalized community as prices of goods to build housing have soared almost three times their pre-pandemic levels and which will ultimately widen the already wide Black/White housing and wealth gap and also lead to an “affordable rental” issue in our community?  

I ask, are we on a path of converging or diverging post-pandemic?

Let us stay the course and “LIVE” like the pandemic is behind us but continuing to “WORK TOGETHER” as if the pandemic was still in front of us. Let us converge, not diverge, in our viewpoints on the economic security for all Wacoans.

At Prosper Waco we are working to address the financial and economic security for our marginalized communities in Waco. We invite you to join us in this fight that ultimately impacts all Wacoans. Please contact me at [email protected] for information on how you can be involved as we are converging together through the “City of Waco Financial Empowerment Blueprint.” 

One for all and all for one.

Dexter Hall is chief of staff and senior content specialist for financial security with Prosper Waco. For more information on financial security contact Hall at [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Key to full return of local economy is tied to vaccinations, confidence

By Charles Williams

The Texas and U.S. economies are surging along with the confidence of U.S. consumers as COVID-19 vaccines flood the nation. But the persistence of the coronavirus makes the recovery fragile. 

Baylor Scott & White employees do their part to help community get back to normal. Vaccinations are the key.

The pace of the U.S. economic recovery in 2021 hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The general business activity index, which reflects the net share of Texas executives saying conditions improved or worsened, hit an all-time high in April for services companies. Manufacturers’ confidence spiked, too.

In the Texas services sector, indexes on general business activity and company outlook rose to their highest levels since the survey began in 2007. Among manufacturers, indexes for new orders and growth in orders climbed to their highest readings in the history of that survey, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“All the stars are aligning to have a great recovery,” Luis Torres, research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University told The Dallas Morning News. “The economy is going gangbusters and the [Dallas Fed] forecast calls for recovering all the lost jobs [in Texas] by the end of the year.”

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently issued a revised revenue estimate that gives lawmakers several billion more dollars to spend as they wrap up the next state budget. Hegar cited improved performance of the state economy as COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted over the past two months and immunizations improved consumer confidence. In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, Hegar said he is optimistic about economic growth because of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas and reopenings of businesses in the state and elsewhere in the U.S.

Nationally, the economy expanded rapidly in the first quarter at a torrid 6.4% annualized rate. Personal consumer spending rose at an equally impressive annualized rate of more than 10%.

Our local area is also participating in the recovery. McLennan County sales and county use tax was up 1.6% in April and 7.7% year-to-date. Waco specifically is up 2.6% year-to-date. Many Texas cities and counties are running deficits compared with last year’s figures. 

Despite this, nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say they would still avoid shopping at local businesses or dining inside restaurants after being vaccinated, according to a new national survey by YouGov on behalf of Bankrate. But the economy can’t fully recover until consumers do what they do best in America: buy freely what they want or need. 

The key to full return of the local economy is residents’ confidence: How vulnerable am I if I venture out to shop or return to the workplace? How contagious are my neighbors and friends? 

Herd immunity — the rate at which enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely — may be an unattainable goal, experts say. However, the only sure answer is to vaccinate as many people as we can.

As of May 6, only 24% of McLennan County residents were fully vaccinated. Compare that with the Texas rate of 29% and the U.S. rate of 33%. A CDC assessment looking at hospitalizations in two U.S. hospital networks covering 24 hospitals in 14 states has found that fully vaccinated adults over the age of 65 are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated adults in the same age group.

Encourage your friends, coworkers, and neighbors to get vaccinated. As more and more acquaintances become vaccinated, hesitancy and resistance will continue to melt. That leads to more consumer confidence and fuels the local economic recovery. 

A free online MyBSWHealth account is the easiest way for Waco area residents to schedule vaccine appointments at Baylor Scott & White Health. There are also walk-in appointments available. 

Right now it is time to roll up our sleeves and engage our communities to increase vaccination. The health of our community and our economy depend on it.

Charles Williams joined Baylor Scott & White in January 2021 as president of BSW – Hillcrest in Waco. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg & Calhoun Counties in Orangeburg, S.C. Charles is no stranger to Texas, having spent most of his life in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Vaccinations provide Wacoans with renewed confidence

By Ferrell Foster

In a Zoom call of community leaders Wednesday morning, Suzii Paynter March noted, “There is a new sense of resiliency and the confidence that comes with vaccinations.”

Educator, Dr. Hazel Rowe, responded in the chat box, “Suzii, It is the ability to EXHALE!!”

So true. If you have not yet gotten your vaccinations, let me encourage you. It provides you with more than disease protection; it gives your spirit a boost, as well.

I know some people are hesitant to get the vaccination because they just don’t like vaccines or they have heard some of the false rumors circulating on the Internet. If you are hesitant or know someone who is, please know that there is a tremendous upside to getting these shots. 

After so many months of knowing that you could be exposed to the virus at any time, it is easy to forget what it was like to feel comfortable in public spaces. COVID-19 is particularly fearful because carriers of the disease often do not know they have it. 

Having the vaccination in your arm gives you a sense of almost having a superpower. You may not be able to fly like Superman, but you gradually develop a confidence that COVID bounce off of you like bullets bounce off of Superman.

As Suzii said, you do feel a “new sense of resiliency and the confidence that comes with vaccinations.” And as Dr. Rowe said, you can begin to exhale, both emotionally and physically. And, if you’ve ever tried to hold your breath a long time, it really does feel liberating to exhale.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco ISD is not letting down its guard on COVID

By Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC

On March 10, 2020, I shared my first Facebook post about COVID-19. I had spent all week scrolling the CDC website trying to decide just how bad this virus could be. I met with other nurses, epidemiologists, and employees at the health district. I gathered as much information as possible to help our Waco ISD decide what this would mean for our students.

School supplies and COVID-19 prevention items

I learned that two weeks at home would be helpful in case anyone was exposed over spring break. Two weeks turned into a month, turned into three months. The next thing I knew, we were planning a socially distanced outdoor graduation for both of our Waco ISD high schools. 

Over the summer, I kept thinking, surely this is going to improve, surely we will not be rolling into next school year still battling this virus. It has now been one full year. ONE YEAR! I would have never guessed that we would still be fighting COVID-19 a year later. 

We have seen our share of tragedy and loss during this pandemic. The first death from COVID-19 in McLennan County was one of our own, Mr. Phillip Perry, the G.W. Carver Middle School principal for the 2019-2020 school year. We’ve lost employees, our students and employees have lost loved ones, have battled the virus themselves, and have experienced the dreaded two-week quarantine at home time and time again. Our nurses have spent countless hours after work and on the weekends contact tracing, making quarantine phone calls, answering questions, and providing a supportive and encouraging ear to fearful parents and employees.  

Waco ISD numbers mirrored the county numbers from the beginning. If the county had an uptick, so did we. If the county began to drop off, so did we. We knew we were doing everything in our power to control the spread of this virus within our walls. 

Masks were mandatory for all Waco ISD students, employees, and visitors. Everyone who comes through our doors has their temperature taken. Employees answer daily screening questions to check for symptoms of COVID-19 and potential exposures. 

Even with every CDC recommendation in place, we still experienced a number of cases on our campuses. When we noticed an increase of cases on a particular campus or area of town, we hosted free drive-through testing sites open to all students and staff. These sites would average 300-400 people in a few hours. 

When we returned from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, we held drive-through testing sites in hopes of catching as many people as possible before they returned to our campuses and exposed others.  

In January, we began conversations with Ascension Providence and Midway ISD to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to our eligible employees. We hosted four clinics during February and March and vaccinated over 1,000 employees from Waco, Midway, Bosqueville, Connally, La Vega, and West school districts. We currently have employees in series with their PCPs, local pharmacies, and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. We are confident that any educator who wants a vaccine will be able to obtain one very soon. 

As we look to the final 12 weeks of this school year, our case counts are lower than they’ve been since September.

We will continue to offer free testing on all Waco ISD campuses through the nurses’ offices and from 3:00-5:00 each day at GWAHCA for all WISD students and staff.

We will continue to require masks and social distancing as often as possible in classrooms.

We will continue contact tracing and quarantining on the same day we are notified of a positive case.

We are not letting our guard down. We are not taking any chances. We will continue to follow all CDC recommendations to keep our students, our staff, and our community safe. This isn’t over yet, but there is an end in sight. 

Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC, is director of health services for Waco Independent School District.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Vaccine distribution provides life-changing clinical experience for MCC students

By Madison Schick 

McLennan Community College’s Health Professions students have experienced personal fulfillment through their volunteer efforts at Waco’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics, and they have helped redefine the influences of hands-on education and what it means to learn through experience. 

Students of the Associate Degree Nursing, Medical Lab Technician, Medical Assistant, and Veterinary Technology programs participated with MCC faculty and other local medical professionals to educate, care for, and vaccinate members of the community in the fight against COVID-19. 

Students’ participation in the vaccination clinics has been eye-opening in community building and in the ability of aspiring health profession students to witness a glimpse of the impactful differences they will continue to make in the future as professionals. 

Liz Painter, RN and simulation specialist within MCC’s Vocational Nursing, administered vaccines to survivors of COVID-19, joyfully tearful immunocompromised adults, and at-risk geriatric patients hopeful to see their families in the near future. With pride in MCC and her students, Liz is also grateful to have met “such a range of people, but all so happy to be receiving the vaccine.” 

Among the thousands to receive the vaccine, MCC’s Senior Graphic Designer Clif-Ann Paris could not have been more impressed with the efficiency, efficacy, and success of the vaccination clinic. “My appointment was for 12:10 p.m., and I was given my first dose only two minutes later. I was given all the information I needed, and my wellbeing was prioritized.” 

What’s next for McLennan Community College? Dean of Health Professions Glynnis Gaines reflects, “We always talk about community service, and it is a part of who we are, but this has really opened new doors” for students and faculty. Nursing students from Baylor University, Texas State University, and Texas Christian University make up only a few of participating institutions across the state that join MCC in education and service through active volunteerism at COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the state. 

Madison Schick is social media and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. A literature enthusiast and graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Madison studied environmental science, English, and history, and still loves all things related to reading and writing. Her other interests include connecting with old friends, trying new restaurants, and spoiling her two rescue cats, Remus and Chewy, with lots of love and treats.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].