Why the Houston Health Department will be pausing additions to waitlist

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine continue, Houston's mayor and health officials are reminding people to keep practicing prevention protocols to slow the spread of the virus.

On Monday, Mayor Sylvester Turner, along with medical health experts, held a news briefing to give an update on the city's response to the virus and the vaccine rollout.

According to Turner, the city's health department received 41,950 first COVID-19 vaccine doses and so far has administered 33,839 first doses. When it comes to second doses, the Houston Health Department received 18,600 doses and has administered 2,300. He added the health department has 971 appointments scheduled for this week for people to get their second vaccine dose.

The briefing comes days after a partnership with Houston's HOPE Clinic helped vaccinate high-risk and low-income residents. Over the weekend, the clinic planned to provide 500 doses of the vaccine on Saturday, according to Turner. By noon, 250 of those doses had been given out.

SEE ALSO: Houston's HOPE Clinic vaccinates those who may need them most

Thousands of doses have been given across the city, despite some glitches in booking recently. Hundreds of people were sent home disappointed earlier this month after the Houston Health Department announced it ran out of COVID-19 vaccine doses at the public mega site at Minute Maid Park.

During Monday's briefing, Turner said their strategy will be to continue moving forward with focusing on getting the vaccines to communities of high-risk and low-income.

As the demand continues to exceed supply, Houston Health Department Director Stephen L. Williams said they expect things to get better as more vaccine doses are on the way.

"This week, our health department is distributing over 9,00 first doses to the most vulnerable. We're prioritizing approximately 5,300 doses for our area agency on aging, 2,400 for providers in vulnerable communities, and 1,300 for previously scheduled appointments," he said.

SEE ALSO: Action 13: Connecting your COVID-19 vaccine questions with answers

Williams added the health department will be pausing additions to its waitlist until further notice. The reason behind this is they are working on setting up a link for people to begin scheduling their own appointments for second doses, which could be announced as soon as Tuesday.

While more and more people getting the vaccine, Turner reminded the public to help keep the virus from spreading.

"The focus on vaccine does not mean we can stop focusing on preventing and testing," Turner said. "I want to remind people that the virus is still very much within our community."

Turner announced Monday that the Houston Health Department reported 1,089 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total case count for the city of Houston to 158,751.

According to Dr. David Persse with the city of Houston's health department, data from the Texas Medical Center showed hospitalizations have leveled off and are slightly decreasing. He believes the city may be at the beginning of the downside of the second wave, but he also urged people to not let their guard down.

"This is not the time to take our foot off the brake, we need to continue to have our masks on social distance, wash your hands, and get tested frequently," Persse said.

Persse is also encouraging people who have received their COVID-19 vaccine dose to still get tested for the virus, as studies did not show if people who have been vaccinated still got sick.

"The reason for that is we know that studies that were done looking at the vaccine efficacy, look for people who had a clinical illness that they went to their doctors and wound up getting diagnosed with COVID-19 because they were symptomatic and ill," Persse said. "The studies did not look to see if people who have been vaccinated still got the virus, and were, therefore, able to spread it but had no symptoms. So we don't know yet. Those studies are ongoing as we speak. You should go ahead and continue to get tested periodically, even if you don't have symptoms."

The latest mask mandate, in which the CDC stated travelers must wear masks on all forms of public transportation, was also addressed during Monday's conference. According to Turner, violators could face civil penalties if they refuse to follow the mandate.

SEE ALSO: CDC says travelers must wear masks on all forms of public transportation to slow spread of COVID-19

"The mandate is being enforced by the Houston Airport System. All people at our airports over two years of age must wear a face covering that goes over your nose and mouth," Turner said. "The federal mandate is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. Anyone who refuses to comply with this federal mandate may face civil penalties, including being immediately escorted out of the airport."
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