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Winter storm could be good news in fight against COVID-19

Posted at 11:10 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-20 00:10:35-05

WACO, Texas — Across Central Texas, hundreds of thousands of people have spent the last week stuck inside their houses as a result of historic winter storms.

Now, local health officials are hopeful the unofficial shutdown could bring good news in the region's battle with COVID-19.

"The trend for the hospital has been positive," said Waco-McLennan County Public Health District spokesperson Kelly Craine. "We had a kind of nature-imposed lock down this week, and we may see some positives out of that."

Waco testing sites were closed throughout the winter weather, meaning the county has not recorded case counts since February 15. Results from that day were incomplete because of the weather.

Craine fears any progress made by the shutdown may be mitigated by the number of people moving in with friends and family because of power outages.

"We know that a lot of people were sharing their homes, so we have some concerns about spread there. But we'll have to see what happens there," she said.

However, McLennan County has seen progress in recent weeks, particularly in terms of the county's hospitalization rate.

Friday, county officials announced the rate had stayed below the 15% threshold for seven consecutive days. As a result, County Judge Scott Felton was able to file a form with Texas DSHS requesting to opt-in to the reopening of bars with a 51% license.

The TABC announced the county had been re-certified Friday afternoon.

The move will likely have little immediate effect on restaurants and bars within the county.

A majority of Waco bars received food and beverage certificates early on during the pandemic and were able to stay open when the county went above the 15% threshold. In addition, few restaurants can expand capacity while still implementing proper social distancing procedures.

"We've ridden that roller coaster of open-close, open-close," said Chris Cox, co-owner of Backyard Bar, Stage and Grill. "We're just gonna stay where we are for the time being."

Several area bar owners told 25 News remaining profitable while meeting food and beverage certificate requirements has been difficult. One said he will likely be forced by the TABC to fall back to a 51% license.

"We've lost so much revenue over the past almost year now that we get to the point that you get to a point that you have to start pushing the envelope," Cox said.

Cox says Backyard can seat 300 to 400 people under COVID-19 restrictions. During a non-COVID night, they saw nearly 1,000.

In order to return to normalcy, the county must continue its vaccine distribution plan, which was delayed one week by the winter weather.

Friday, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reopened its public vaccination clinic, giving out an estimated 1,000 doses. A majority of those were second doses.

"The weather is getting nicer and the roads are getting better, but not necessarily for everybody," Craine said. "So we let people know that they could come in if they needed their second dose."

The clinic will also be open for make-up appointments Saturday.

Craine said they plan to move forward with scheduled appointments when the clinic opens again on Monday. The county also plans to re-open free testing sites that day.