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The Lead Dec: 20, 2021: Omicron is lurking but are we ready? Do we even care?

The variant is taking over parts of the world and there are some signs we should be paying attention, but will we?


We are on the stretch run for Christmas, and it's clear that people are coming and going as they head out or arrive for the holidays. Like many of you, we're looking forward to the break.


The Lead Live will be taking a break after Wednesday's show until Jan. 5. After more than 90 shows since Aug. 9, we're working on re-tooling our programming heading into 2022. The newsletter and website will be updated during the holidays.


Here's a look at what we've got going for our final three shows of 2021:

  • Today: We're going to name the winners of our awards for best Christmas Lights after our 12-day tour of Kerr County. We photographed 200 homes, and we have some fun categories to award. Kerrville Pets Alive's Karen Guerriero will join us to discuss some of the organization's plans for the coming year.
  • Tuesday: We'll broadcast live from St. Peter's Episcopal Church for another chat with Rev. Bert Baetz, who wants to expand his discussion about pop culture and the church.
  • Wednesday: This will be a terrific show as we chat with Kerrville Police Chief Chris McCall, Kerrville Fire Chief Eri Maloney and John Harrison, who chaired the committee about the city's needs for a public safety building. Based on recommendations from consulting architects and the chiefs, the committee is poised to recommend a nearly 70,000-square foot building with a proposed budget of $45 million. There are still plenty of questions that need answering as the committee prepares to make its recommendations to the City Council next year.


We welcome you to The Kerr County Lead and are grateful for your support as we launch this new venture. We will be moving our morning newsletter — delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday — to paying subscribers only in the coming days. We will still offer free content for important breaking news and unique content offered on our Facebook page, including The Lead Live webcast at 9 a.m. on weekdays.

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I had a very friendly black lab visit my front yard on Sunday. He had no collar and was pretty grubby. However, he came when I called him, wanted to be petted and was thirsty. Fortunately, I have some good friends at Kerrville Pets Alive! Their first bit of advice was to call Kerr County Sheriff's dispatch and tell them about the dog. Following their advice, I called dispatch and described my situation. They were extremely helpful and said they would pass it along to the on-call person at Kerr County Animal Control Services. Within five minutes, I got a call from KCAS and said they would be on their way. Now, I wouldn't say I liked the idea of handing that dog over, but the professional manner in how KCAS handled the situation was impressive. Just as we were getting to load the good boy into the truck, the frantic owner came running up the street yelling that it was his dog and that he had gotten out earlier in the day. Crisis averted. The owner received a stern warning about the loose dog — as he should have — but I was readily impressed with the efforts of both KCAS and KPA.


We stopped by the Kerrville Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center for Christmas at the Kroc. We found Izek Gonzalez making this masterpiece cookie frosting sandwich. Gonzalez, who is 11, was hanging out with his younger nephew and they were having a great time making a sweet mess


There's growing concern among many scientists about the rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19. In Great Britain, omicron infections have quickly overtaken the delta variant. Just how bad it will be in the United States is unclear. There was plenty of discussion about it on Sunday's news shows.

See @PeterHotez's post on Twitter.

So, what does it mean for Kerr County? The data is clear that delta was rough for many, especially at Peterson Regional Medical Center, which saw record admissions in September and October. The concern is that omicron is more contagious and infects those with previous COVID infections or vaccinations. The only good news, at least from South Africa, is that it seemed to peak quickly versus the sustained onslaught of the delta variant.

Here are four areas to be concerned about regarding the omicron variant here in Kerr County.

We're not vaccinated

When it comes to vaccination, Kerr County is a laggard. However, 18,800 of us are fully vaccinated, but that might not matter, considering more than half the county is not. The latest Texas Health and Human Services say that 48% of Kerr County residents are fully vaccinated. The vaccination numbers now drill down to those 5-years-old and older. The number of vaccinated against the virus has been flat for weeks.

With the lack of vaccinations, the omicron variant potentially could infect thousands in Kerr County.

Non-COVID-19 patients already impact Peterson Regional Medical Center

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department tracks the utilization of hospitals in the United States, including here in Kerrville. Peterson Regional Medical Center has been running at near capacity for weeks and with a low number of COVID-19 patients. On Friday, Peterson reported five people hospitalized.

Dr. Jeremy Faust, a Harvard physician who writes for the same Facebook program as The Lead, noted his concern with hospital impact.

"Hospital capacity is not just about beds and equipment, but also staffing. Omicron will cause more infections among healthcare workers and more of their families will have infections, whether from school or work," Faust, an emergency room physician at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "To avoid a massive loss in hospital workforce days, hospitals should adapt "test to stay" policies for employees who have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 whether at home or at work, rather than enforcing lengthy quarantine periods."

  • As of Dec. 13, Peterson has 70% of its beds in use, but the situation in the intensive care unit was even more difficult — 20% of beds were available.
  • Over in Fredericksburg, where there are just four intensive care unit beds — there's 100% availability. Like Peterson, it just takes a handful of Patients to overwhelm the intensive care unit.
  • In San Antonio, the intensive care unit situation remains tight — about 20% of beds are available.

COVID-19 Fatigue

For many, COVID-19 isn't a real problem, while others believe it's fake, but it's hard to deny that we're all sick of the virus. That fatigue presents a lot of problems when it comes to precautions — meaning we won't do anything to head off the virus before it takes hold.

Those precautions, as Faust suggests, range from the wide distribution of KN95 masks to a broader vaccination strategy. Faust calls it putting circuit breakers in place to prevent a crush of patients in the hospitals.

"Yes, we have to respect pandemic fatigue," Faust wrote. "But I believe these interventions done correctly—circuit breakers in particular—will actually fight pandemic fatigue by giving people a sense of having accomplished something. Circuit breakers achieve an attainable goal, which people will actually feel good about."

Leadership, or lack thereof

Texas is an interesting position with a political apparatus dismissive of the virus and hostile toward efforts to corral it. At the same time, there's a huge research community here that is among some of the leading voices regarding vaccines and mitigation efforts.

When push comes to shove, Gov. Greg Abbott has moved to take some mitigation efforts, but in a re-election battle, it's unlikely he will do much unless it's really bad. He's also hamstrung local leaders, who have shown a willingness to take action. So, how will Abbott handle this? He probably won't.


Spokane, Wash., is home to one of the great basketball cultures around, especially being the home of Gonzaga University — NCAA Division I men's runners-up in 2021. So, Schreiner University decided to test itself against its two Division III teams — Whitworth and Whitman. The Mountaineers got whipped by Whitworth — a perennial D3 power — and then squandered a 15-point lead against Whitman in a typical loss for Schreiner — by less than 10 points. The Mountaineers are off until Dec. 31, when they return to Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference action against St. Thomas in Houston.


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