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Nueces County Calls For Extra Nurses As Hospitalizations Climb And Delta Variant Puts Unvaccinated At Risk

Masks work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, says Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales. But now her task is to boost vaccination rates beyond the elderly and teens, and especially among those who've only received one dose.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Masks work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, says Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales. But now her task is to boost vaccination rates beyond the elderly and teens, and especially among those who've only received one dose.

From Texas Standard:

On Monday, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales issued an emergency call for health professionals to help her county manage the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations there.

Canales told Texas Standard that a nurse shortage in the Coastal Bend Region, which includes Nueces County and Corpus Christi, has been its own “crisis” in the midst of a resurgence of COVID-19.

“We’ve seen literally a tripling – and I’m certain that within the next week it’ll be a quadrupling – of hospitalizations and ICU situations, as well,” Canales said.

The good news is that over a dozen health care professionals answered her call for help.

That help will be needed as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across Texas and puts unvaccinated people at particular risk for infection. Approximately 60% of Nueces County residents aren't fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Canales described the variant as “wicked” compared to the alpha variant responsible for last summer’s surge; delta spreads more easily and appears to be making younger, healthier people sicker than before.

“We have really seen folks who, and it’s human nature to say, ‘Oh, I think I just, you know, feel moderately ill’ – and the quick turn from moderate illness to severe illness seems to be taking its toll,” she said.

Having adequate medical staff is only one part of the equation, however. Canales says this time around, her county is going to have to be even savvier about its vaccination efforts, masking, treatment and more.

When COVID-19 vaccinations first became available, Nueces County rolled out a novel program to vaccinate elderly and other residents who are unable to leave their homes – a program that has since been replicated elsewhere. As a result, about 70% of that population is fully vaccinated. The county also started a vaccination program at local malls that reached younger residents, ages 12 to 18. But Canales says her county missed the people in “the middle”: unvaccinated people in their 20s and middle age who are generally healthy and are now more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Plus, there are thousands of people in her county who have only received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, when two doses is recommended for full protection. Canales says she wants to “close that gap.”

“That second vaccine really needs to be given in order to have the efficacy or that, you know, success of the vaccine against, in particular, this delta variant,” she said.

As for masks, Canales says while she cannot mandate them, wearing them is a no-brainer.

“Masking definitely helps,” she said. “It definitely reduces transmission of this virus and particularly in those indoor public settings where social distancing cannot be achieved.”

But she wants her county to reach a step further and become a hub for COVID-19 treatment. On Tuesday, Canales is asking the state to become a “regional leader” in administering infusions of the Regeneron treatment for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. She says those treatments could help ease demand for hospital beds and make room for sicker patients.

“Particularly our demographics and our, what our social determinants are here in our county, we think an infusion center would really help decompress our emergency rooms, which will hopefully also prevent further hospitalizations, further ICU situations and overall reduce fatalities,” Canales said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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