Raul Valenzuela sat inside his living room in Corpus Christi, Texas, while two firefighters prepared him for a vaccine against Covid-19.
Valenzuela, mainly towards home, did not imagine going out to make a shot. But he knew the pandemic was getting worse in the city, so he jumped at the chance to get vaccinated at home.
“I finally took a number off the TV and called him,” he said.
When the needle came in, Valenzuela didn’t grimace. And in a matter of seconds, he had his first dose, with a Band-Aid as a keepsake.
“Very well, God bless you,” he told the first responders, who may have just saved his life.
In Corpus Christi, a predominantly Latin beach town with a population of about 327,000 on the Texas coastal bend, nearly a thousand residents have already died from the virus. And with the cases coming out of control again and all the intensive care beds filled, local officials are working feverishly to prevent the tragedy.
The saying goes that you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink. With internal universal vaccines such as Valenzuela, Corpus brings water to all the horses in the city. And yet, so many will not drink.
They have been eligible for months, but only a little over half of the local population aged 12 or over has been completely vaccinated. The catchment is even lower than that of the whole of Texas, which is already lagging behind much of the country.
Richie Quintero, the city’s deputy fire chief, compared those who rejected the vaccine to smokers, drunk drivers and drug users.
“It’s not a frustration or a feeling that is different or new. Now it is focused on a virus, unlike all these other possibilities that, frankly, have the same effect, “said Quintero.
Active cases of Covid-19 continue to rise in the Corpus area, with hundreds of new positives each day. And just two weeks into the academic year, the city’s independent school district has reported more than 1,100 infections, the vast majority among students.
Now, about 37% of hospital capacity in the region is devoted to Covid-19 patients, the highest percentage in the entire state. No beds available in the ICU. Even for children, there are only five intensive care beds left.
Nearly all Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the county are not vaccinated, and earlier this week, 15 residents died in a single day.
Still, it couldn’t be easier to get the shot right now. At the La Palmera shopping center, shoppers can enter a reused shop window without prior appointment, take the vaccine and leave within 20 minutes. Similarly, home vaccines make the sting as fluid as ordering food delivery.
“If you work during the day and want us to come in the evening, we will. If you’re available during the day, we’ll come during the day, ”said Corpus Christi fire chief Robert Rocha.
“We want to remove any barriers for people receiving the vaccine.”
Rocha firefighters work overtime after 24-hour shifts to help anyone who wants a shot. They have administered more than 6,000 doses to home patients since the end of January and, more recently, have vaccinated 229 members of the general public.
“It’s nice to see people come on good days [get] Covid vaccines, instead of most of the time, we see people at the worst possible time, “said Captain Cody Eyring. Firefighters have been responding to many calls from Covid-19 patients, in addition to answering traffic accidents, heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies.
Meanwhile, as emergencies flood in, first responders have requisitioned an ambulance bus to increase capacity. To avoid the sometimes waited hours that have been tying up their ambulances, they have also started assigning lawyers to coordinate with hospitals.
“We know we have to vaccinate people. We know we have to do these programs. We know they work, ”said Kenneth Erben, assistant chief of staff for Corpus. “Having to do all of these things at once is just an overwhelming task.”
To date, more than 100 staff members of the Corpus Christi Fire Department have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Every day, another spouse, son, father or brother falls ill.
“A little more frustration. A little less smiling. This kind of thing settles in, ”Quintero said of the growing Covid cases. “Because, despite the badge or title, what do you have, we’re all still human beings, with the same kinds of feelings and, hopefully, concern for the other person.”
“The best word I can use is exhaustion. Everyone has a toll, ”he added. “We’re not immune to that.”
As Corpus Christi faces the current crisis, fear has taken over the factions of the public. Fully vaccinated residents flood the home vaccination call center looking for a booster shot, but many are not yet qualified.
Operations Captain Robert Cruz maintains a detailed impression who can get exactly a third shot. The bottom line is that now only immunocompromised patients are eligible, news that angers some people. He begs them to give time to their crews.
“We’re all on a mission,” Cruz said. “This is taking care of the population. Get them their vaccines. Get rid of this nasty virus. So, everything that needs to be done for this mission, you know, I’m willing to do it. “
Cruz has begun to hear friends finally getting vaccinated, a change of heart that welcomes him. “I had one who called me before. It was all against it. He got Covid. And now it’s all over, “Hey, I’m ready for my vaccine,” Cruz said.
“Yes sir, we will take care of you.”
At the La Palmera vaccination clinic, there are now people with family members carrying fans to receive their first shots. Kids too. They fear that they will get sick at school and ask their parents to take them.
Interest declined in the summer, but the site has been occupied again for weeks. In recent days, about 2,800 people went to the mall to get vaccinated.
“Many families have lost too many family members against Covid and are coming to get vaccinated,” said Kathy Ard-Blattner, the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator. “Vaccination is the key.”
Surrounded by the remains of a Charming Charlie accessory store, patients checked in last week and received their shots. With masks on, they stared at the phones or chatted. They soon went out the door.
After Nathaniel Bynum got his second dose, he waited near the exit. At age 17, he finished high school before joining the San Diego Marines.
“I do not want to get sick. Even though I’m young, I don’t want to pass it on to other people, “said Bynum.
The day before, one of her relatives who was seriously ill with Covid-19 and pneumonia had needed resuscitation. She trusted the leaders of right-wing Christian gathering about their loved ones. They were also conservative, but they had wanted him to receive the blow.
“I do not know why it is controversial. It’s like getting a flu shot. I mean, that’s not controversial, “said Bynum.
“It’s just a vaccine. It’s not that big of a deal. “