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Only 40 percent of Frio residents are vaccinated
& MANUEL AZOCAR III
As new cases of the coronavirus are on the rise, local officials are taking action to stem the surge. Pearsall ISD has issued a mask mandate and local elected officials are in talks about a vaccine initiative program.
Last week Pearsall city councilors voted to participate in a vaccine program contingent on the county’s decision to implement the initiative.
“The county is considering offering an incentive to get the vaccine,” Pearsall Mayor Ben Briscoe said during a Tuesday, August 24 meeting. “They have not approved it just yet. But if it is the desire of the city to work with the county and to provide resources, should they decide to do this, we could provide a couple of employees and possibly a building to help facilitate.”
Briscoe confirmed the city would not contribute to the program financially except for the salaries of those city employees who would help run the program.
“I think we should do this,” Councilor Julian Hernandez said. “We have the lowest vaccination rate of the surrounding counties.”
Frio County Auditor Crystal Marquez asked commissioners, during a July meeting, if they planned to implement a program that would encourage residents to be vaccinated.
“I read an article where President [Joe] Biden is asking local governments to offer an incentive program,” Marquez said. “It would be something to help increase the vaccination rate.”
As of Saturday, July 31, only 39.75 percent of Frio County residents were fully vaccinated. A number Pct. 4 Commissioner Jose Asuncion does not see picking up.
“We have decided to invest in a prevention plan,” Pct. 4 Comm. Asuncion said. “It is a predictable cost, rather than scramble to respond to an unpredictable virus outbreak.”
According to the commissioner, last year, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the county had more tools at their disposal. Such as limiting business capacities, facemask mandates, a call center to provide additional services for those COVID positive patients.
“If you believe COVID could get worse, the best thing to do is prevention,” Asuncion said. “I think with this new variant things are going to be worse and we have less resources now. The federal funds are earmarked for COVID.”
The funds for the incentive program are not coming from county tax dollars but from a federal program, American Relief Program, intended for COVID mitigation. Each resident who chooses to get vaccinated would receive $100.
The following week commissioners moved to have Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna spearhead the incentive program.
According to commissioners, a survey showed that 14 percent of those unvaccinated would change their minds. This would equate to nearly 800 Frio County residents.
“That would be eighty thousand dollars of the $1.9 million,” the commissioner said.
In an email from PISD Superintendent Nobert Rodriguez on Thursday, August 26, he confirmed the district had nine confirmed COVID-19 cases in one day.
“The number of confirmed cases within our school and county is currently the highest that it has been since the pandemic started,” the email read. “Our community has a very low percentage, forty-two percent, of people who have been vaccinated for the coronavirus.”
The high infection rate prompted school district trustees to implement an indoor face mask-wearing mandate that became effective on Monday.
According to Rodriguez, school board trustees will review the mandate monthly.