One local Killeen nurse practitioner is painting a dismal picture for those who are unvaccinated from the coronavirus.
“As contagious as delta (variant) is, it’s going to burn through like a wildfire among the unvaccinated,” said Dean Robert, a nurse practitioner at Elms Creek Family Clinic in Killeen and a staff nurse in the emergency room at Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights.
“It’s more severe. It’s more contagious. And the predictions are the next four to six weeks we’re supposed to peak even more,” Robert said in a phone interview Friday. “With no mask mandates ... we are in so much trouble.”
Speaking about what he has witnessed in the emergency room at Seton, Robert said nurses have been unable to keep up with new patients, and the emergency room stays full and backs up throughout the day.
Area hospitals have declined to say how many beds are available, but did say they are under “stress” since COVID-19 cases began to surge earlier this month.
Robert said that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, emergency room trends were somewhat predictable — building throughout the day, leveling off at night and clearing everyone out overnight.
Robert said data indicates that what he calls “classic COVID” had a 25% hospitalization rate, while the delta variant has a 50% hospitalization rate, which is in line with what he has witnessed.
On July 27, the Texas Tribune highlighted the rise in hospitalizations in Bell County.
“In the Temple/Killeen region nearby, about 3% of hospitalizations in the area were COVID patients on July 1. By July 27, that had jumped to nearly 14%,” the Texas Tribune reported this week.
The news outlet also reported that Bell County was in the bottom third of all 254 counties in residents who have gotten at least one vaccine shot.
As of Thursday, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 40.03% of Bell County residents 12 or older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, while 33.68% are fully vaccinated. In Coryell County, those numbers are 36.91% for one dose and 31.63% who are fully vaccinated. In Lampasas County, 43% of residents have received at least one dose, and 36.44% being fully vaccinated.
Statewide, 61.55% of residents have received at least one dose, according to DSHS. A total of 52.55% are fully vaccinated.
All three local counties have seen a less than 10% increase in all categories since the last time the Herald reported them — May 28.
The highest increase came from Coryell County, which has seen a 9.43% increase in those who are fully vaccinated — up from 22.2% on May 28.
The smallest increase has come from Lampasas County, which has seen 6.22% more residents get at least one dose of the vaccine — up from 36.78% on May 28.
Robert credited the vaccine to helping alleviate the effects of the new wave of cases.
“If we didn’t have the vaccines right now, we’d be at such an unbelievable crisis unlike anything in our country’s history,” he said.
Robert’s message for those who are leery about getting the vaccine is a simple one: “Trust us.”
“The other thing I try to remind people of is: if they’re leery of the vaccine, which we’re recommending, but when they’re sick they’re going to come to us to get treatment,” Robert said. “So, you trust us to take care of you when you’re sick, shouldn’t you also trust us to take care of you before you’re sick?”
The vaccine is being offered for free at many local providers, including H-E-B, Walgreens, CVS and local pharmacies, such as Medical Arts Pharmacy in Copperas Cove.
The pharmacist at Medical Arts Pharmacy was not immediately available to speak on whether there has been an uptick in those interested in getting the vaccine.
A spokesperson for CVSHealth indicated it has not been an uptick in vaccinations in the area.
“Our COVID-19 vaccination rate has been holding steady, and we continue to be able to meet the demand,” said Monica Prinzing.
H-E-B officials said early Saturday morning that all local stores have seen a "dramatic increase" of people receiving a vaccine in the past two weeks.
Chelsea Thompson, the district spokeswoman for H-E-B, said the stores are giving vaccines "roughly equivalent" to the number when the vaccines were first offered.
Paul Kitchens, a registered pharmacist and the H-E-B pharmacy director of the North West Food Drug Division, said the vaccine interest has been cyclical.
“The interest in the vaccine has run in cycles- first when only health care providers were eligible, then when seniors and health compromised were added, then teachers, then general public and then children down to 12 year olds," Kitchens said via email. "The current volume of shots equals the peak rates during each of the previous cycles."
H-E-B currently offers the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved for emergency use in anyone 12 or older, as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is for adults 18 and older.
To schedule a time to get the vaccine, go to https://vaccine.heb.com/.
Walk-ins are also offered from 9 a.m. until close.
Interim Bell County Public Health District Director Nikki Morrow said that from her perspective, interest in the vaccine has grown.
“The Health District is seeing more interest in getting the vaccine, especially as cases continue to climb. The start of the school year and flu season are also encouraging more families to consider getting vaccinated,” Morrow said via email Friday. “The rise in cases is overwhelming those who are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine helps prevent severe illness, hospitalization, reduces risk of death and helps to control the spread of Covid-19.”
Killeen Independent School District has teamed up with Baylor Scott & White to offer the second dose of the vaccine Aug. 3, 4 and 5 at the former Nolan Middle School, 505 Jasper Road, Killeen. The hours are noon to 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 3 and 4, and from 1 to 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 5.
To view upcoming vaccine events in the district and instructions, go to https://www.killeenisd.org/covid19_vaccine.