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  • Congressman diagnosed with COVID

    Kevin BradyFILE PHOTO Congressman Kevin Brady

    TCNS staff

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

    According the congressman’s Twitter account, Brady said on Jan. 5 that the Office of House Physician informed him that he tested positive for COVID-19 and is under quarantine.

    Brady said that as had been recommended, he received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 18. He said he tested negative for the virus as recently as New Year’s Day.

    He began treatment on Jan. 6

    According to a statement from his office, Brady had been practicing all guidelines laid out by the Center for Disease Control and House physicians, including social distancing and wearing a mask, and received a test as soon as he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

    He also received the second dose of the vaccine last week.

    The Pfizer vaccine is authorized by the FDA as a two-dose regimen with a 21-day interval between shots. Per the FDA, the effectiveness of the vaccine after a single dose is inconclusive.

    Brady was confident in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and is incredibly proud of the historic success of Operation Warp Speed, according to the statement.

    It also said that Brady is receiving outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center.

  • Court holds special session on flood infrastructure

    SJchildabuseawareness1EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA | SJNT The Courthouse lawn is festooned with Marvel and DC comic book characters and stars in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT staff writer

    COLDSPRING — Residents of San Jacinto County can soon expect to see prescribed burns and surveyors with the U.S. Forest Service wrapping up their jobs around the Sam Houston National Forest, with improvements to come from them.

    During a special session on Wednesday, the court discussed plans to bid on CDBG-DR Harvey Round 1 projects, including on streets in the Waterwood subdivision and other roads in the county including Butch Arthur, Jeanette, Pelican, and Chipmunk roads.

    Improvements include plans to install culverts, clean neglected ditches and perform other means of flood mitigation, since several roads and bridges in the county historically flood via the San Jacinto river and several of its creeks.

    Pending the completion of the surveys and updates of county records, that information will be used to complete Harvey related projects as well as other potential areas of improvement including running new power lines and means to reduce speeding on the county’s curvier roads.

    Those still seeking to receive their first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna depending on availability, can reach out to the San Jacinto Office of Emergency Management at (936) 653-8714 for upcoming clinics.

    Those seeking a vaccine do not need to live in the county to receive one. This includes those participating in the ongoing Save Our Seniors Initiative, which aims to prioritizing getting the vaccine to those 75 years or older.

    The Enterprise Lease program continues to provide Chief Tim Keen with weekly check-ins but production cutback from pandemic-related problems have left the department without new vehicles, something that has been ongoing since late 2020.

  • COVID CRUSADER: Retired physician taking stand against virus

                                   JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Retired U.S. Army Col. And Dr. Ronald Tolls is an advocate for Covid safety.

    By Jason Chlapek

    LIVINGSTON — Ronald Tolls has held a few titles during his 80 years of life.

    Among those are U.S. Army Colonel and Doctor. Tolls has an unofficial title these days — Covid Crusader.

    Inspired by friends who relocated from Houston to Livingston during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the retired doctor is taking it upon himself to help prevent the spread of the virus around the Livingston community. He believes it is easier to spread than other illnesses as well.

    “The first thing that happened is we had a couple that I vaguely knew from our church who were displaced from Houston. They’ve been with us ever since,” Tolls said. “I became aware of it acutely that Covid had spread and was highly communicable. People who were in nursing homes have a high fatality rate. I’ve since been following the CDC recommendations and I think they were off track for a while because they thought it was spread like a common cold or the Spanish Influenza. But in fact, it can be spread via aerosol, which is akin to the smoke that we smell around a bonfire. In other words, it’s far beyond the six feet.”

    Tolls has taken his mission to the Livingston Walmart. He believes the virus is more likely to be spread there as opposed to churches or schools.

    “In our church, we have social distancing,” Tolls said. “But at Walmart, it has all fallen on the wayside. About a month ago, I did a tally at Walmart and I found that 50% of employees were wearing their masks improperly. I’m a staunch believer that the No. 1 spread of Covid is not in our churches or in the open marketplace. It’s in shops. Walmart is the principal retailer in town. A third of the people that come in are not even wearing masks. I am eager to raise awareness and what I’m proposing is that, with all respect to Walmart because next to (Livingston ISD) they’re our No. 1 employer in town, we get a systemized program at Walmart. They’re examples to the rest of our community. They can beat their chest and say ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re not killing you by selling cigarettes as much as we’re trying to save you from Covid.’ Cigarettes will shorten your lifespan by 10 years and those very same people have the audacity to go out and have a team on Relay For Life.”

    During Tolls’ time at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, University of London, he learned about a man named Sir John Snow. During the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854, Snow figured out a way to slow down the spread of the disease.

    “In the social area of London (in 1854), there were 500 fatalities in 10 days,” Tolls said. “Somebody asked John Snow what they should do about it. He said to take the handle off of the Broadstreet Pump. He had a box of pins and a map of that region. Essentially, in 1854, John Snow was a couple of generations ahead of his time. I will never be able to prove things like he did. I will never be able to prove with pins like he did. What I would like to do is promote a program at Walmart and other businesses will follow suit. I would like to see them do it in good face. I want our Walmart to be an example to the community.”

    Tolls retired from practicing medicine three years ago. In addition to Walmart, he is interested in talking to other high-traffic businesses in Livingston.

    “I think there’s something people need to know about and I think they need to know how to stop the spread of Covid,” Tolls said. “It’s killed 200,000 Americans. It behooves us to do something about it. I’d be quite willing to talk to other stores as well.”

    He’s staying on the crusade.

  • Groveton continues mask policy

    Groveton ISD logoFILE PHOTO Groveton ISD logo

    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — the Groveton ISD School Board intends to leave well enough alone by keeping masking requirements in place through the end of the school year.

    At the board’s regular meeting on March 22, the board took no action regarding Gov. Greg Abbott’s order removing any restrictions connected with the coronavirus pandemic.

    Superintendent Don Hamilton said the state gave schools an option regarding masks only, making it a school board decision.

    “(A handout from the state) shows that as boards consider their mask policies, one thing to be aware of is the risk for litigation and grievances for COVID-19-related claims,” Hamilton said. “This is a hot topic — half the people want to do away with it, half the people want to keep it.”

    Hamilton said he spoke with School Nurse Virginia Redden, who pointed out the district was nine weeks away from school being out, and that the students and teachers have done too well to change.

    Board President Mark Folds said he could go either way, but since the district has been doing so well, he did not see a reason to change, and the board could take up the matter at a later date.

    In other business, the board:

    • •approved the purchase of a new school bus from Longhorn Bus Sales;
    • •approved changes to school policy based on recommendations from the Texas Association of School Boards;
    • •approved the school calendar for the 2021-22 school year;
    • •approved keeping the District of Innovation description, and appointed a planning committee; and
    • •discussed contracts for teachers.
  • Houston County named to ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative

    NEWS Vaccine 031721FILE PHOTO

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – Governor Greg Abbott announced today that Houston County is one of four East Texas counties added to the statewide “Save Our Seniors” initiative.

    The initiative was announced on March 1 by Abbott to ensure that more senior citizens are vaccinated throughout the state. Houston County senior citizens can receive their free shot at the Crockett Civic Center Thursday, March 18 and Friday, March 19.

    The vaccines, which will be administered by a military team, will be available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each of the two days. According to the Houston County Office of Emergency Management and Fire Marshal, the availability in the county of the vaccine as part of the initiative is the most recent plan to protect the county’s citizens. Five hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine will be available at the vaccination center.

    Anyone who is age 50 or older, along with members of the same household (21 and older) and/or caregivers is eligible for the vaccines on these dates. The availability has also been opened to employees of the education field.

    Other counties in the region that were added to this wave of the initiative are Trinity, Shelby and Hopkins. This is the third week, thus far, and there were previously 26 and 34 counties participating, respectively, each of the other two weeks. This week, in total, there are 28 Texas counties named to the initiative by the Texas Division of Emergency (TDEM), the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Military Department (TMD.)

    “The continued expansion of our ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative is protecting elderly Texans from COVID-19 and ramping up our vaccination efforts across the state,” Abbott said.

    For those who have questions regarding the vaccine or might need to schedule a home visit for a home-bound individual, they can call 936-544-7175, and registration is also available on-site. The Civic Center is located at 1100 Edmiston Drive in Crockett.

  • Judge Blanchette fights COVID

    Blanchette 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette swearing in Warren ISD board members in November, 2020.

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette found himself among the 13 million Americans who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus this year.

    Blanchette received a positive result from a COVID-19 test administered on Friday, Nov. 28. He said he had begun feeling ill the day before Thanksgiving, and by Friday was very sick. He is currently staying confined at home. His wife, Leeza, had also fallen ill with the virus and is recuperating.

    An update from the Tyler County Emergency Management Facebook page noted Blanchette’s announcement and that he appreciates the prayers and support from the public in his recovery.

    As the pandemic has experienced a nationwide surge in the past month, the likelihood of infection has increased, and anyone is fair game for the virus.

    Several other elected officials in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus. According to a recent story from KJAS out of Jasper, the Jasper ISD School Board President Mark Durand and the county’s Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Raymond Hopson were both diagnosed with the virus last week.

    Hopson was elected to fill the seat held by Judge Jimmy Miller who died from coronavirus complications during the summer.

    In Tyler County, the total number of confirmed cases has surpassed 300, and at press time is at 320. This number represents the total number of positive cases in the county since reporting began in late March with the first confirmed case.

    Two recent deaths were also reported as COVID-related. Last week, Ruby Moore, of Warren, died from complications, and the week prior, Ethel McGough’s passing was linked to the virus.

    Those two deaths brings the COVID death count to nine in the county.

    In other COVID news, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe recently addressed the methodology for reporting the county’s number of cases and added reportage for the number of quick tests administered. Jobe said those cases are not listed by public health as active, but they are tracked, investigated and logged in the system as “probables.”

    In addressing questions about the seeming lapse in reporting cases, Jobe said “The public health numbers and my numbers don’t always match,” which he attributed to a timing issue.

    Additionally, the numbers from public health sources use the test date as the starting date for active cases, and then county 10 days and remove from active if they do not receive the result, Jobe said. Those cases are posted to the recovered category. “Several counties where we have residents go test are slow to get results to our public health group,” he said.

  • KISD trustees make mask wearing optional

    KISD supt img page wz0estCOURTESY PHOTO KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey

    By Alton Porter

    Like students, faculty members and staffers in other independent school districts across the state, those in Kennard now can choose whether or not to wear face coverings to school.

    Members of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a “mask or no mask requirement,” giving students and district personnel the options at a regular board meeting Monday, March 15.

    The trustees took the action in response to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott March 2 and which took effect March 10, lifting his former statewide mask mandate and a change in health guidelines by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), according to KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

    “Our board approved the no mask requirement. However, it is optional. If a student or staff member wants to continue to wear their mask, they may do so. It is optional at this time.”

    Before Abbott issued the recent executive order, “TEA required us all to wear masks, based on the governor’s orders,” including his mask mandate executive order issued during the week of June 29 last year), Lindsey said.

    “And since he changed, TEA had changed their health guidelines. And it said that the only thing that the schools could do—the board had the local authority to change the mask requirement. We still have to continue to follow TEA’s public health guidance. But the only thing that we could change was the mask requirement. The school board had the authority to make that decision.”

    Among other actions taken at the meeting, the trustees approved a “missed school day waiver” to account for days missed by school employees during last month’s severe winter storms.

    “Due to the winter freeze in February, we had to ask TEA for waivers, due to not having electricity and those types of things,” the KISD superintendent said. “And we asked for waivers from Feb. 16-19 because that Monday (Feb. 15, when the first of the two storms created electrical power outage and water service loss problems), we were already out for a holiday.”

    The waiver eliminates the requirement that the staffers make up for those missed days, Lindsey said, adding, they will be paid as usual for those days.

    In other business, the KISD trustees voted to approve the district’s school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year and approved an Instructional Materials Recommendation Proclamation for 2021.

    A copy of the calendar is posted on the district’s website and Facebook page.

    About the instructional materials recommendation proclamation, Lindsey said, “This year is time to adopt new materials for pre-k, and we recommended to adopt Frog Street (one of several pre-kindergarten curriculums provided by an approved vendor included on a list provided by TEA),” and the recommendation was approved.

    “TEA provides a list of approved vendors for us to look at that they feel are appropriate and aligned with text,” Lindsey said. “And then, it’s up to the district to evaluate those on the list to make the best recommendation for their district.

    “It’s the curriculum that our teachers will use that are based on the pre-k guidelines. We currently use the program, but now it’s time to adopt our instructional coach. And our teachers did and evaluation process of three vendors and found that Frog Street they felt would be the best to meet the needs of our kids.”

    In another action, the trustees approved contracting with the Axley & Rode, LLP, certified public accounting firm, to serve as the district’s auditor for the 2021-2022 school and fiscal year.

    During reports by Principal Oscar Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Robin Stowe, it was noted that “we gave benchmarks last week,” said Lindsey. “And we just had a summary of our data to look at where we need to do some intervention prior to giving STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).”

    Lindsey said Encarnacion and Stowe were to meet with teachers Thursday or Friday, March 18 or 19, “to go over that data and make individual student plans” for administering the test. She said the district is required by TEA to administer the test this school year, adding, “we have chosen this year to go all online 100% for testing.” Most of the test will be administered to students in late May, she said.

    Students in grades three through eight, will be given the tests, Lindsey said. “And then, you have your Algebra I, Biology, US History, English I and English II” high school classes that will be administered tests.

    During the meeting, student participants in this year’s Kennard High School one-act play cast and staff were recognized for their success in advancing to bi-district competition, which took place Monday, March 22.

    “We also recognized our basketball all-district students,” Lindsey said, adding, “and our coach, Cory Carden, was named district coach of the year. So, we were very proud of him.”

    After reconvening the open, public part of the meeting, following a closed, executive session, the trustees approved annual contracts for Principal Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Stowe; the resignation of former school nurse Diann Deckard; and routine requests for personnel employment, teacher contract renewal and proposed renewal, renewals for professional employees in non-certified positions and approval of at-will employees for 2021-2022, Lindsey said.

  • OEM, health officials host Covid vaccine clinic

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE A patient rolls up her sleeve prior to receiving the Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday morning.

    JUST A LITTLE PINCH

    By Jason Chlapek

    When it comes to combating illness such as viruses, influenza or a pandemic as Covid-19, most health officials would say that it’s better to be proactive than reactive.

    On Tuesday, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management teamed up with Dr. Raymond Luna, CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial Hospital, Brookshire Brothers, Angelina County & Cities Health District, Texas Department of State Health Services and various volunteers to administer the first round of Covid vaccines for area residents. The vaccine clinic took place at the Polk County Commerce Center in Livingston, where 200 proactive residents received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine.

    “The vaccine was administered to front-line workers, who are in Phase 1A of the Texas Vaccination Plan, and Phase 1B, who are persons over the age of 65 or 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition,” Polk County OEM Coordinator Courtney Comstock said. “We have been directing people to go to the Brookshire Brothers website to get on the vaccine list. That’s where these persons were pulled from (Tuesday).”

    The OEM is implementing its health district’s mass vaccination plan to vaccinate residents in larger numbers. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have already been vaccinated by federal pharmacy partners.

    To date, more than 1,600 Polk County residents have received their first dose of the vaccine, with 49 of those being fully vaccinated and other residents in the process to receive the second dose. The OEM has reached out to the state to request larger future vaccine allocations.

    “All area COVID-19 provider partners are coordinating together to plan for future vaccination clinics,” Comstock said. “We’ll continue to coordinate with our Covid vaccine partners to schedule future clinics like this and we’ll schedule appointments with residents who have signed up on the Brookshire Brothers website. We have requested that the state expedite the approval of additional providers of the vaccine. The state health department has released instructions on how persons can register to receive the vaccine. If they’re able to travel to a nearby county. We’re asking the community to be aware that other providers will be added to the Polk County list.”

    Although the Brookshire Brothers waitlist has been temporarily suspended due to vaccine shortages, partner agencies are working together to find solutions that incorporate those on the current list, and residents are encouraged to check back often as the county anticipates the waitlist will reopen when additional vaccine is allocated.

    Luna, a longtime family medicine practitioner, could easily be nicknamed, “Dr. Emergency.” Since coming to Livingston in 1985 to join Dr. Jerry Wood’s practice, the bicycle-riding physician and Livingston city council alderman has worked with multiple emergency situations.

    “I volunteered to be a county medical officer a long time ago,” Luna said. “I’ve worked closely with the OEM and the health department during tornadoes, hurricanes, Zika virus and anything that involves emergency or medical aspect to it.”

    For additional information on the vaccine, people are encouraged to contact the Angelina County & Cities Health District hotline at 936-630-8500.

  • Save Our Seniors initiative starts in San Jacinto County

    031121 SOS 2EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA | SJNT Sergeant Rachelle Thomas and her team of medics and administrators teamed up with the San Jacinto County’s Office of Emergency Management to keep the clinic running smoothly, with 105 doses administered in the first day.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT Staff Writer

    COLDSPRING — Last week, San Jacinto County was the first of 26 counties in Texas to implement the Save Our Seniors vaccination program, meant to get the first round of the vaccine into the arms of the county’s older citizens.

    Volunteers, who have already been working to assist with distribution at the Brookshire Brothers, along with Army medics, worked side by side to administer the allotted 200 vaccines, with 105 doses of the Moderna vaccine being used in the first day at the Coldspring Emergency Shelter.

    Medics also drove around the county to give the first dose to those who are homebound, with officials in the Operations and Emergency Management office calling residents in the county to make sure they were aware of the free program.

    The initiative was originally intended for those 75 and older with an appointment, but volunteers moved to contact those 65 and older on the second day as to not waste any of the vaccines, which must be kept refrigerated.

    Among those assisting the San Jacinto County OEM office in distribution was Sgt. Rashelle Thomas and her team of certified medics and administrators, who are based out of Lufkin and will continue moving around East Texas to assist in distribution, including in Shelby and Panola county.

    “The volunteers and the town are awesome, and we just enjoy all the people we’ve gotten to work with,” she said.

    The county, which has been holding vaccination clinics through several outlets prior to last week’s event, claims luck had a small part to do with why the county was chosen as the first to pilot the program, which was put together in less than a week.

    “The first day was a little hectic, but we’ve had a steady flow of participants and it’s gone smooth,” SJ County Judge Fritz Faulkner, equipped with a mask, said. “This has really been a blessing.”

    Other factors, as stated on the governor’s website, include vaccination rates among seniors and total vaccine allocations over the past three months.

    Participants will need to return approximately three weeks after the first shot, as indicated on their form. Those who have received the vaccine are encouraged to continue wearing masks in public and practicing social distancing, as indicated on the CDC website.

    While the vaccine has been proven effective in reducing symptoms, specifically those that lead to hospitalization, it’s ability to reduce spread is still being monitored.

  • WISD recipient of Temple grant

    student 5520411COURTESTY OF PIXIBAY student

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – The continuing pandemic has been especially tough on how schools carry on with the business of education. As part of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s efforts to address the issues East Texas school districts have faced, it awarded grants totaling $377K to 12 school districts, with each district getting $30K of the amount. Woodville ISD was one of the districts and district superintendent Lisa Meysembourg said she and the faculty, staff and administration are extremely excited to recceive the grant money.

    Meysembourg said WISD will utilize the funds to address instruction and achievement at all grade levels, from Pre-K through grade 12 “to ensure that all students have equitable access and opportunity to learn, progress and master learning expectations needed for future success,” she said.

    T.L.L. Temple Foundation President and CEO Dr. Wynn Rosser said that although educational inequities existed prior to the pandemic, “the most vulnerable students are bearing the heaviest burdens.”

    Recent studies have posited that the learning disruptions brought about through COVID-19 will only continue to widen underlying achievement gaps, and could ultimately prove detrimental economically, due to increases in dropout rates and reduced postsecondary education completion.

    “Research has shown that without an intentional targeted response to accelerate learning in reading and math in our schools, this event could impact the educational achievement and future of students for generations to come,” Meysembourg said.

    Meysembourg added that the grant funding will help give the district financial resources to provide additional focused instruction and intervention support services to meet the individual needs of the district’s student population in order to increase potential success in school as well as life after school.

    Specifically, she said that on the district’s elementary, intermediate and middle school campuses, master reading and math instructors will be hired as interventionists in order to provide targeted small group instruction to students who are identified as being at-risk, and to help fill learning gaps.

    Also, a summer credit recover program will be offered for WHS students, and the district’s teachers and staff will be provided ongoing professional development in order to strengthen their curriculum knowledge and to build skills toward helping students to recover from the pandemic’s impact upon their learning.