Community immunity

What is it? How do we get there?

CARES funds remain in generous supply


With about $20 million of Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds remaining, Williamson County is “running out of new avenues to spend the money,” Scott Heselmeyer, county treasurer, told the Williamson County Commissioners Court Tuesday, April 27.


The treasurer’s office is still reimbursing for earlier expenses. Mr. Heselmeyer said that, for things like substance abuse and child abuse, CARES Act funds can help.


Commissioner Valarie Covey, Precinct 3, said the court is spending CARES Act money on mental health because there has been an uptick in incidents and need.


Regarding vendor proposals to the county government for services under the CARES Act, Mr. Heselmeyer said that every “no” is given after consultation with at least one member of the commissioners court.


“We would have to pay the federal government back, if we spend it in error,” Ms. Covey said.


Mr. Heselmeyer said that residual and lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic will be addressed with funds from the American Rescue Plan.




The Texas Department of State Health Services reported, on Friday, April 30, that 40 percent of the eligible residents 16 and older in Williamson County — about one-third of the entire population, including children and younger teens –– have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.


This statistic includes the 64 percent of fully vaccinated residents 65 and older.


“As of right now, experts believe we would need to have approximately 80 percent of the population vaccinated or recovered to reach community immunity. Effectively, we still have a long way to go,” said Dr. Rob Watson, chief medical officer of Baylor Scott & White Austin and Hill Country Regions.


“While we work to vaccinate more individuals and learn more about coronavirus variants, we encourage people to continue to practice proven Covid-19 mitigation measures — like wearing a mask, physical distancing and good hand hygiene.”


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers community immunity to be reached when a sufficient proportion of the population is immune to an infectious disease — through vaccination and/or prior illness — to make its spread from person to person unlikely.


Rather than experiencing the virus firsthand, a safer way to reach community immunity is for people to get vaccinated, according to the Williamson County and Cities Health District and Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest not-for-profit health care system in Texas.


More commonly, people speak about “herd immunity” in the context of Covid. CDC officials define the terms similarly.
Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection when community immunity is achieved because the disease has little opportunity to spread.


Allison Stewart, Master of Public Health, the county health district’s lead epidemiologist, said, “We applaud the county’s mass vaccination efforts.”


In particular, Ms. Stewart commended the efforts of those who helped to get over 64 percent of county residents 65 and older fully vaccinated.


“This is, no doubt, a milestone,” she said. But “for Covid-19, lower estimates of community immunity include 70 percent of the total population vaccinated.”


Community immunity for the county, by definition, cannot be reached by a single segment of a population — it can only be reached by vaccinating a high percentage of an entire population, Ms. Stewart said.


The county health district recently has reported a 99 percent recovery rate among those diagnosed with the disease.


Those who have recovered from a disease are normally counted along with those vaccinated when determining community immunity.


However, for Covid-19, Ms. Stewart said, “Natural infections are generally not considered part of herd immunity due to several factors, mainly that there is no reliable data supporting the length of time of natural immunity and effectiveness against variants.”


CDC guidance indicates that those who have had the disease and recovered should be vaccinated. That’s because experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from Covid.


Depending on the types of treatments received, those who recover from Covid should wait about three months and consult their regular doctors before seeking the vaccine.


May 4 | 3:00 pm