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Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

Gary Borders

The number of people in Texas hospitalized with COVID-19 has declined more than 28 percent in the past month, according to the Texas Department of Health Services. As of Feb. 7, Texas hospitals were treating 9,957 COVID-19 patients, down from nearly 14,000 a month ago. The number of new cases in the past week was 123,239 — a 22 percent drop from the record high of 158,922 the week of Jan. 10, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

At the same time new cases and hospitalizations were decreasing, the number of Texans getting their first dose of vaccine crossed the 2.3 million mark as of Sunday, according to TDHS. That’s 700,000 more initial shots in a week. Those who are now fully vaccinated reached 733,287 as of Sunday.

The state received 401,750 first doses from the federal government this week, which are going out to 358 providers in 135 counties. That includes 85 hub providers, according to TDHS.

Not everyone is on board to receive the COVID-19 vaccine

About one-third of Texans polled in a recent statewide survey by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs say they are unlikely to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. More than one out of five respondents were adamant they will not receive the vaccine.

Kirk P. Watson, founding dean of the Hobby School, said he hopes the survey will help public health officials address concerns of those unwilling to be vaccinated.

“More than 60% of people who are hesitant to be immunized had concerns about potential side effects and worried that the vaccine is too new,” Watson said in a news release. “Understanding why people resist immunization is an important step in reaching herd immunity.”

Most of those polled who say they are certain or likely to refuse vaccination asserted they don’t trust the government or pharmaceutical companies to ensure the vaccine is safe. Health experts say that between 70% and 90% of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, according to the press release.

Abbott gets behind rural broadband expansion

Gov. Greg Abbott made expanded broadband service an emergency item during the current legislative session, saying it is necessary for providing telemedicine care to patients regardless of where they live, and for improving educational access.

“From medicine to education to business, broadband access is not a luxury — it is an essential tool that must be available for all Texans,” Abbott said in his State of the State address last week.

As previously reported, a pair of lawmakers intend to file legislation aimed at expanding critical broadband services throughout the state. Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, are calling for creation of a statewide broadband plan no later than a year after enabling legislation is passed. Texas is one of only six states that does not have such a plan.

One Capital Highlights reader, a Houston resident who owns a second home on Lake Murvaul in Panola County, recently wrote to bemoan the lack of connectivity in rural East Texas: “It’s a no-internet/no cell bars jungle over there. At Lake Murvaul, I have installed a cell phone booster on a 20-foot antenna so that my phone has enough signal strength to be a hot spot. Then I had to upgrade my “unlimited” plan, only to find out that after 30GB of being a passable hot spot, it meters down to a trickle that won’t even let me view the latest Bernie Sanders meme.” He added, “I have parked in the lot at the library just to download Kindle books and Prime Video. Primitive!”

State rep seeks to clarify deadline for TPIA requests

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, has filed an open government bill designed to more clearly explain “business days” for governmental entities responding to the Texas Public Information Act. According to Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, during the COVID-19 pandemic some governments refused to respond to TPIA requests if their physical offices were closed, even if the staff was working remotely. This legislation would give clearer guidelines for response days. It’s House Bill 1416.

Emergency SNAP food benefits extended through February

Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits have been extended through February, with $300 million in benefits provided. The move came after the Texas Health and Human Services Commission received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the program. Recipients will also continue to receive a 15% increase in their total benefits, at least until June.

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Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.