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COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive In The Midland - Odessa Area As Hospital Numbers Decrease

Medical Center Hospital in Odessa has set up a hotline for locals to call to ask questions and be assessed for COVID-19 symptoms. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

By Mitch Borden

In recent weeks West Texas has seen a drop in the number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19. At the same time, hospitals in the Midland-Odessa area have received doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and have already begun vaccinating employees.

Marfa Public Radio's Ari Snider caught up with Permian Basin reporter Mitch Borden to talk about these new developments.

Below is an excerpt of the conversation between Marfa Public Radio's Ari Snider and Permian Basin reporter Mitch Borden. To listen to the full conversation click the audio player at the top of the page.

AS: So can you go into some more detail about the drop in COVID hospitalizations and how this has affected Far West Texas?

MB: Yeah, and to do that we have to go back to November. So, starting around Thanksgiving, the state had to renew some of its coronavirus restrictions in our area. That was because over 15% of all hospital beds and Trauma Service Area J, which includes the Permian Basin and Big Bend, were taken up by coronavirus patients [for over a week.] 

This activated one of Governor Greg Abbott executive orders causing some businesses like bars to close and other businesses to lower the number of customers they could serve to half of their capacity.

AS: Yeah, I'm sure many of our listeners do remember this. That move brought down business capacity from 75% to 50% right?

MB: Yeah, at the time, these new restrictions and the high hospital numbers were not good news and many people expected another surge in coronavirus patients following the Thanksgiving holiday when it was believed families would gather. 

Thankfully that surge never really appeared, at least in the Midland-Odessa area. Since hospitals have seen a sustained drop in hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients recently, the state has lifted the restrictions placed on the Big Bend and the Permian Basin.

AS: With two COVID-19 vaccines being approved by the FDA, we are starting to see hospitals across Texas receive these first doses.

What's the status of the vaccine getting to the Odessa-Midland area?

MB: This is actually some great news.

All the hospitals in Midland and Odessa, all three, have received one of the two vaccines that are currently approved by the U.S. government. Midland Memorial Hospital received its first shipment last week which was made up of the Pfizer vaccine.

Odessa's Medical Center Hospital and Odessa Regional Medical Center just received shipments of the Moderna vaccine. Both facilities are moving fast to get out as many shots to their health care workers as possible.

AS: Is there any talk about getting the vaccines out to some of the smaller communities?

MB: Yeah, Medical Center hospital set aside over 100 doses for rural hospitals and in a few surrounding communities including Monahans, Kermit and Pecos. Both Midland Memorial and Medical Center have said they're committed to getting the vaccine out to other health care providers. 

Looking at the Big Bend, health officials in the tri-county area expect the state will soon send around 400 doses of the vaccine to clinics located throughout the region.

AS: So we're talking about vaccines right now. And I just want to be clear about who's receiving them at this point. You can't just waltz into the hospital and get a vaccine, right?

MB: No, sadly not. The vaccines I've been talking about right now are specifically for healthcare and frontline workers. At this point, like you said Ari, the vaccine isn't available to the general public in West Texas.

Health care officials are asking the public to be patient and just to pay attention for more information as the state continues to dispense the vaccine.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.