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  • Anti-mask mandate mandated

    governorFILE PHOTO Gov. Greg Abbott

    Special to the News-Times

    AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities in Texas — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from requiring or mandating mask wearing. 

    Public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

    However, in San Jacinto County, the governor’s action will have no effect, as both the Coldspring-Oakhurst and Shepherd districts had already voted to remove masks.

    Shepherd Superintendent Jason Hewitt said that in April, the board voted to remove masks after a survey of the staff and community showed masks should be removed.

    Cassie Gregory, information officer for COCISD, said that board had made masks optional previously.

    Beginning May 21, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or impose a limitation inconsistent or conflicting with the executive order can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

    "The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," Abbott said. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."

    Exempt from the order are state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.

    Additionally, the governor said that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective June 26.

    This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, a release states.

    “The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits. That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs. In fact, there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the Pandemic hit Texas.”

    The current job openings are good paying jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, nearly 45 percent of posted jobs offer wages greater than $15.50 per hour. Approximately 76 percent pay more than $11.50 per hour. Only 2 percent of posted jobs pay around the minimum wage.

    At this stage of opening the state 100 percent, the focus must be on helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls.

    Another reason why the action was necessary is the high level of fraudulent unemployment claims being filed. TWC estimates that nearly 18 percent of all claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic are confirmed or suspected to be fraudulent, which totals more than 800,000 claims, worth as much as $10.4 billion, if all claims had been paid.

    Federal law requires the effective date of this change to be at least 30 days after notification is provided to the Secretary of Labor. As a result, the effective date will be June 26.

  • Anti-mask mandate mandated

    052721 mandateFILE PHOTO Gov. Greg Abbott

    Special to the News-Times

    AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities in Texas — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from requiring or mandating mask wearing. 

    Public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

    However, in San Jacinto County, the governor’s action will have no effect, as both the Coldspring-Oakhurst and Shepherd districts had already voted to remove masks.

    Shepherd Superintendent Jason Hewitt said that in April, the board voted to remove masks after a survey of the staff and community showed masks should be removed.

    Cassie Gregory, information officer for COCISD, said that board had made masks optional previously.

    Beginning May 21, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or impose a limitation inconsistent or conflicting with the executive order can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

    "The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities," Abbott said. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."

    Exempt from the order are state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.

    Additionally, the governor said that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective June 26.

    This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, a release states.

    “The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits. That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs. In fact, there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the Pandemic hit Texas.”

    The current job openings are good paying jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, nearly 45 percent of posted jobs offer wages greater than $15.50 per hour. Approximately 76 percent pay more than $11.50 per hour. Only 2 percent of posted jobs pay around the minimum wage.

    At this stage of opening the state 100 percent, the focus must be on helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls.

    Another reason why the action was necessary is the high level of fraudulent unemployment claims being filed. TWC estimates that nearly 18 percent of all claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic are confirmed or suspected to be fraudulent, which totals more than 800,000 claims, worth as much as $10.4 billion, if all claims had been paid.

    Federal law requires the effective date of this change to be at least 30 days after notification is provided to the Secretary of Labor. As a result, the effective date will be June 26.

  • Brookshire Brothers pharmacies offer COVID-19 vaccine

    BrookshiresFILE PHOTO Brookshire Brothers logo

    Special to the News-Standard

    LUFKIN — As distribution of the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine begins at a rapid pace, Brookshire Brothers Pharmacy is proud to be one of the first retailers in the nation to offer the vaccine, as it becomes available.

    To maximize access to COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a governmental partnership with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains — including those in retail and grocery chains — to further increase access to the vaccine across the country — particularly in traditionally underserved areas.

    Brookshire Brothers is honored to partner with HHS and the states of Texas and Louisiana in offering COVID-19 vaccine.

    The vaccine will be available in a phased approach, with the first doses being offered to healthcare workers and residents of long-term health care facilities, followed by essential workers and other high-risk individuals. It is expected to be available to the general public by spring or early summer of 2021 and will be administered at no cost to patients.

    At the Tuesday, Dec. 22, Trinity County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Steptoe said that the Brookshire’s in Trinity has secured 40 vaccinations, and the Brookshire’s in Groveton has secured 10.

    “Ensuring access and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans is a top priority for the Trump Administration,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We are leveraging the existing private sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs. The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”

    Many pharmacists, such as the ones who work at Brookshire Brothers, are trained to provide immunizations and are already important immunizers in their communities. Pharmacists have been heralded for playing a vital role in the public health response to COVID-19 by counseling patients and expanding access to childhood vaccinations during the pandemic. By working with these partners, the federal government will rapidly expand access to COVID-19 vaccines.

    “This is consistent with our commitment to being a trusted resource for our communities. Pharmacists and their staff are some of the most accessible healthcare professionals in the nation, and we stand ready to help increase access and convenience for people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, once it is approved and available to us,” said Laura Edmundson, Director of Clinical Pharmacy Programs at Brookshire Brothers.

    For more information, visit BrookshireBrothers.com/pharmacy.

  • CISD trustees accept $3.2m bid for juvenile center

    CISDALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett High School junior students Katlyn Marshall, left, and Keaton Crabtree addressed CISD trustees at Monday night’s meeting asking that the wearing of facemasks not be mandatory for students as they attend this year’s prom at the school.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Crockett ISD trustees have accepted a bid to sell the district’s Juvenile Justice Center property for a substantially higher price than they paid to purchase the facility a little over three years ago.

    The Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to accept a $3.2 million bid, submitted by Merkabah, Inc., headquartered in the Houston area, to purchase the former Crockett State School property at a meeting Monday evening.

    The school district’s officials paid $650K in cash and turned over the district’s $61,000 bus barn/transportation facility to the city of Crockett to pay for the property, located across Loop 304 from the district’s administrative office building in January 2018.

    “We did invest some money in that property,” School Board President and District 5 Trustee Dr. John Garner said.

    Merkabah’s owner has indicated that he plans to have the property developed into a residential facility, but not for the same level of students that some of the past organizations that owned the property served, CISD Superintendent John Emerich said.

    Although the campus will be a juvenile facility, plans are for it to be a place for foster care youth, the CISD superintendent said, adding, so it won’t be for kids that have been sent there because they’re in trouble.

    “It will be much different,” Emerich said. “They (Merkabah employees) take care of the education of their students, so it won’t be something where we’re constantly (having) kids coming to our school. That will not be the case. It will not be a burden on the school, which has been something that has happened here in the past.”

    Garner said the Merkabah company and its owner were vetted quite extensively, and it was determined that they will be good owners and developers of the property.

    The motion that passed, approving and accepting Merkabah’s bid, after the trustees reconvened the open, public part of the meeting following an executive session, was made by Board Secretary and District 4 Trustee Karen Norman and seconded by District 1 Trustee Ansel Bradshaw.

    “I’d like each one of us to consider the transition that will have to take place and how that will affect our students’ positivity by selling this property,” said District 2 Trustee Stephen Tuggle. “It is an asset, but we have an investment that we are, I guess, cashing in, for lack of a better word. And we also have an opportunity to use those funds for the betterment of our students here in Crockett High School.”

    “I think it is worthy to note that this bid and the proposed action that will take place there is something that will benefit not just the school district but the entire community with jobs coming to the area,” Emerich said. “And I think this is a win-win all the way around.”

    “I feel that all the board members understand the history and the heritage that property has brought in this community,” said Garner. “We take this action very seriously. It’s been considered extensively. We feel that, as the bid process is ongoing, it’s an opportunity, as Mr. Tuggle said, not only for the district but for the Crockett community, the company of value, and very worthy of our consideration.

    “Any action that’s taken regarding the property is done after due diligence and our effort to make the best use of this entrusted property for the district as well as the whole community. We feel like that’s what will occur if this purchase proceeds.”

    Emerich said, “There are some things in the agreement that we’re going to get some time to continue using … after the sale goes through to give us time to build new facilities.”

    He noted that he visited some of the other facilities that belong to the Merkabah owner and he feels “very comfortable about this gentleman and his operation (and) what they were doing.

    “This company has some big plans to do a lot of additional building. When everything is up and going, it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the Crockett community.”

    “It will help infuse additional revenue and business activity,” Garner added. “That’s one of our main goals.”

    Mask resolution adopted

    CISD trustees voted to adopt a resolution regarding the wearing of face coverings by students and employees at the district’s schools.

    In offering the motion to adopt the resolution, Bradshaw read a statement, saying, “Masks are recommended for all staff and students. Temperature checks will be continued to be done on all campuses for staff and students. And any visitor visiting Crockett Independent School District during instructional time are required to wear facemasks while on district property.”

    During public comments, Crockett High School junior’s Katlyn Marshall and Keaton Crabtree, daughter of District 6 Trustee Josh Crabtree, addressed the trustees and asked that it not be mandatory for students to wear facemasks at this year’s prom. They requested that wearing facemasks to the event be optional.

    In his monthly report to the trustees, Emerich noted that they will have a special meeting Monday, May 10, beginning at 5:45 p.m., to canvass the results of the district’s trustee election. Emerich reported that 136 voters had cast ballots early—103 in person and 33 by mail—in the election as of Monday evening. Early voting ended Tuesday; election day is this coming Saturday, May 1.

    Seeking election to the Super District 7 position are Johnny Taylor, who has been employed 30-plus years as a school administrator, teacher and coach, and Gerald Colter, a Crockett High School graduate, Texas Department of Transportation retiree and current part-time employee of the city of Crockett.

    The trustees voted to approve personnel recommendations submitted by Emerich and his staff: the hiring, resignation and reassignment of district employees. Among those employed is Judy Leediker, who was rehired to fill the position of Crockett Junior High School principal.

    In a district continuing education credit board training report, Rhonda Kendrick, CISD executive secretary and human resources director, noted that all of the trustees are in compliance with the Texas Association of School Boards training requirements.

    Among items requiring action, the trustees approved changing a district’s previously scheduled half day of school from Sept. 24, the previously scheduled homecoming day, to Oct. 8, the rescheduled homecoming day, on the district’s 2021-22 school calendar.

    In addition, the board members approved the district’s annual Allotment and TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) Certification for the 2021-2022 school year and approved continuation of a legal services agreement with Powell Law Group, LLP, the district’s legal counsel firm.

  • Closing the barn door behind the eight ball

    tony farkasFILE PHOTO Tony Farkas

    By Tony Farkas

    Gov. Greg Abbott last week issued the mandate to end all mandates by mandating that no government entity can mandate the use of masks.

    Better late than never, I guess.

    For the liberty-minded among us, this is something that has all the earmarks of government — at least at the state level — is headed in the right direction. It’s really nice to see that at least one politician understands that it is not them what holds the ultimate power over our lives, but us people do.

    The issue for those that cherish liberty and individual freedom, though, is that it’s comes only after the fact.

    The government did not hesitate in the least to issue the mask/social distancing/stay home-stay safe mandates the minute some unelected government flunky suggested it. (This is the same government flunky that been not only caught not wearing a mask, but has been shown to have opinions about the efficacy of mask use that are as varied as there are grains of sand on the Gulf.)

    At one point, everyone was following the bizarre and ever-changing guidance of the Center for Disease Control, spurred on by the governments Czar of All Things COVID Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden and director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Note: still not elected.)

    One mask, two mask, Pfizer shot, J&J not, everybody do the pandemic conga.

    Because the hysteria even gripped Texas, Abbott followed suit. This is not to say that the pandemic should have been taken lightly; this is to say that there really wasn’t any authority for the action, not to mention no real evidence proving it would (or did) make a difference.

    Because of those actions, he has drawn the attention of people who believe the mandates were short-sighted, and have now announced their attention to run for governor against him — even as conservatives.

    It would be easy to believe, then, that the governor’s actions were self-serving, an act of preservation of a legacy, and a chance at re-election. While that may be the case, it also misses a critical point, in that the federal government doesn’t exhibit any inclination to honor states’ rights.

    See, Unca Joe loves us, and will always lock us up and throw away the key to show that love, and will do so with a smile because he, after 40-plus years in government crafting things toward that end, the government is becoming the be-all, end-all for everything.

    So the next time there’s a pandemic, guess what happens? The feds will clamp down, and force — passive-aggressively — states to comply by threatening federal funding for things like health care or hospitals or emergency services. Because as was pointed out so eloquently in “The Wizard of Id” so many years ago, they operate by the Golden Rule: “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”

    I do, I really do appreciate the governor’s gesture. However, the cynical elf that lives in my brain is laughing hysterically because he knows nothing will change with things as they are. Texas will always be independent, but it’s the feds that have usurped all power, because — everyone say it with me now — we let it happen.

    Becoming comfortable with being taken care of, combined with nurturing propaganda and vilification of any opposition, has been going on so long it’s become ingrained in us that rebelling against tyrannical actions has become unthinkable.

    In order for the governor’s actions to become something more than a token gesture, it needs to be the first domino in a chain that will ultimately right the American ship, putting it back on course. Individual liberties are paramount, and we’re not subject to the whim of people who “know what’s best for us” and the diktats that inevitably, inexorably follow.

    Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Coldspring schools going back to on-site learning

                                   PHOTO BY JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Coldspring-Oakhurst High School is one of two COCISD campuses that will do away with distance learning on Monday. Lincoln Junior High is the other.

    By Jason Chlapek

    COLDSPRING — Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD trustees voted to remove distance learning from Coldspring-Oakhurst High School and Lincoln Junior High during a special meeting on Nov. 2.

    While students at the high school and junior high in COCISD will no longer have distance learning beginning Monday, students at Coldspring Intermediate and James Street Elementary schools will still have the option of participating in distance learning. Students at the high school or junior high with underlying health conditions will still be eligible for distance learning.

    “The board met and heard input from the community, parents and teachers,” COCISD Superintendent Dr. Leland Moore. “We ultimately decided to go back to face-to-face in the high school and junior high, but leave it up to the parents for the intermediate and elementary. After talking with the principals and campus representatives, the board felt like some campuses needed to go back to face-to-face, while others were doing fine. We did this to maximize the learning process.”

    Moore said combating Covid-19 is, “an everyday job.” But, he believes the district has a great person in charge of health services — department director Kristi Benestante.

    “There’s something happening with Covid every day. It’s a struggle and we are experiencing some positive cases, but we have a very thorough process. Kristi has a process that keeps the kids healthy and safe. We listen to her. We had several kids identified as positive and she runs down the close contacts.”

    During October’s monthly meeting, COCISD trustees approved the holiday and vacation schedule. According to Moore, “TASB suggests that employees who work 240 days get paid holidays and vacations.”

    COCISD meets again at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

  • 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.

  • Congressman Kevin Brady looks to the next step in Washington

    Kevin BradyKevin Brady file photo - official portrait

    By Tony Farkas

    CONROEKevin Brady’s win in the election on Nov. 3 is like an energy drink — re-energizing the congressman to face the challenges ahead.

    “I’m really thrilled to be re-elected to Congressional District 8 of the Republic of Texas,” he said. “It’s an honor, always has been. However, despite the historic economic recovery after COVID, and a vaccine deployment arriving at a record pace, there’s still more work to be done.”

    Brady said his goal as Republican leader of the House Ways and Means Committee is to help defeat the coronavirus, create 10 million new jobs and create an economy even stronger than the one prior to the crash caused by the virus.

    “I’ve introduced legislation that would lock in the tax relief to benefit workers and businesses; to make America medically independent from China, and we hope to leapfrog America into the No. 1 innovation nation in the world and using our tax code to do that,” he said. “That will create millions of new tax-paying jobs, and spur manufacturing and research in America.”

    He also said he helped introduce new retirement legislation that will help more families, and more low-income workers, save for the future.

    On a separate matter, Brady said he was proud to report that the Democratic “blue wave” crashed and burned in Texas, despite record voter turnout during a COVID crisis.

    “I was proud that President Donald Trump won 230 of 254 counties in the state,” he said.
    “The Texas Republican delegation faced long odds this year, with six retirements and a total of 10 races targeted by national Democrats.”

    Brady said that despite Democrats predicting they would get the majority of the seats up for election, they got nothing, and it was especially embarrassing in the 23rd Congressional district, where a Texas Democrat promised a flip but did not deliver.

    Brady said he felt the Democrats failed to gain any ground in Texas is because conservative legislators reflect Texas values, and that there was no way to fund the crazy ideas that Democrats put for, such as defunding police.

    He also said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to stall any legislation designed to assist families dealing with the COVID crisis was a factor.

    “I’m proud that Republicans held the Texas House of representatives with no losses,” he said.

  • 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.

  • Covid forces cities to cancel Veterans Day ceremonies

    Onalaska FlagJASON CHLAPEK I PCE A pair of volunteers post flags along US Highway 190 in Onalaska to honor Veterans on Veterans Day, which was celebrated on Wednesday throughout the nation.

    By Jason Chlapek

    ONALASKA - A pair of Veterans Day ceremonies were canceled or postponed because of Covid-19.

    The Polk County Garden Club’s annual tribute to Veterans on the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker has been postponed until Memorial Day 2021, and Onalaska’s annual Veterans Day program was canceled. Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate chimed in on his city’s decision to cancel its annual ceremony.

    “We did not have a Veterans Day ceremony this year because of Covid,” Choate said. “Most of the Veterans in this area are senior citizens and they are the most vulnerable to this virus. We wanted to be very cautious and try to avoid any congregation, so we’re going to plan to have it next year. We have plans for Veterans Day 2021.”

    Onalaska still did something to honor Veterans, however. The city placed American flags along both sides of US Highway 190.

    “We put out the American flags three times a year — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day,” Choate said. “We put the flags out a little early this year to let everyone have the opportunity to see the patriotism in our community.”

    Choate hopes the virus will run its course and not be a threat by Veterans Day next year. He also reminisced about previous Veterans Day ceremonies.

    “In the past, we invited Veterans throughout the community, played patriotic music and had speakers such as State Rep. James White, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy and Commissioner Rodney Vincent,” Choate said. “We also displayed flags and played the songs of each of the five branches of the service. We also do a muster. This is where we call out the names of Veterans from our area who passed away in the past year. When we call their names, we invite relatives or friends to call out, ‘Here,’ when their Veteran’s name is called.”

    At the Blue Star Marker, Livingston VFW Post 8568 teamed up with Livingston High School Junior ROTC cadets to present the flags. The Onalaska High School JROTC did something similar at the Onalaska Veterans Day ceremony.

     

  • Covid-19 regional update

    N2103P48004CFILE PHOTO Covid-19

    By ETxN Staff

    Polk, San Jacinto, and Tyler Counties

    In the Trauma Service Area designated H, which includes Polk, San Jacinto and Tyler counties, the amount of hospital bed usage by COVID-19 patients is down to 10% as of Wednesday, April 21, according to figures from the state department of health services. 

    Of the ICU beds available, 14% are being used as of Wednesday by COVID-19 patients. 

    The figure for daily cases reported as of Wednesday was 13 and the cumulative totals for the trauma region are 11,591 cases reported since reporting began in 2020, and 698 total COVID-related fatalities.

    Since reporting of active cases ceased in early March, concurrent with the lifting of Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandate, Tyler County reported 1,213 total cases and 34 deaths since March of 2020 when the county’s first confirmed case was reported."

    Houston County

    According to emergency management coordinator Heath Murff, as of April 30, the total number of Covid vaccination doses that had been administered in the county was 10,431.

    He added, “6,500 of those have been first doses; 4,633 of those are fully vaccinated people.

    “Houston County Emergency Management has hosted three vaccinations clinics, and we have vaccinated 600 citizens.”

    Murff said DSHS staff members “used to give us information daily, as far as, how many cases we had, how many active cases we had, how many recoveries we had, all that kind of specific (information) for Houston County, and they quit doing that.”

    ET COVID CHART

    **More information for up-to-date numbers can be found at:

    https://txdshs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/ed483ecd702b4298ab01e8b9cafc8b83

     

  • Fiddling champ to appear at Camp Street

    Ridge Fiddler 052021COURTESY PHOTO Ridge Roberts

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – With the availability of live music returning to the hungry ears of the public as the threat of COVID wanes, Camp Street Café has a couple of shows lined up for the remainder of May, and this weekend the venue will host a world-class fiddler.

    Ridge Roberts, a 17-year-old North Texas native who won the World Champion Fiddler title in 2018 in Crockett, will play his album release show at Camp Street on Saturday. The show begins at 8 p.m. The album he is promoting is titled Lone Star Fiddler and was recorded last year in Nashville.

    According to Roberts’s bio on his official website, the album “pays homage to his deep Texas roots….and gives a big tip of the hat to the musical pioneers and legends of the past.” Roberts has been fiddling since he was seven years old, when his father, John, taught him the basics.

    Along the way, he soaked up and researched fiddle tunes and the styles of the old masters of Texas fiddling.

    Roberts will be joined on Saturday’s show by two special guests, Matthew Mefford and Joey McKenzie. McKenzie, a guitarist, appears on the album, and helped mentor the young fiddler.

    McKenzie spoke about Roberts’ musical growth as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, to add to his virtuoso fiddle work. “With all he’s been up to, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 17 and is just getting started in his musical life,” McKenzie said. “Ridge is also becoming a fine guitar player, singer and songwriter.”

    The instrumental album features many old-time Texas fiddle standards, like “Sally Goodin” and was produced by McKenzie.

    Although he is, as McKenzie stated, “getting started” on a new phase of his musical development with having an album available, Roberts is no stranger to playing live. He has been performing for audiences since he was nine-years-old, when civic organizations in Granbury asked him to play at their meetings. In 2013, when he was 10, he won his first contest, and has won many since then, including the National Twin Fiddle Championship and Junior World Champion. He has also filled the fiddle role in the band the Western Flyers, a Western swing/traditional country band.

    According to his bio, the young Granbury-based musician continues to hone his musical gifts and plans to

    continue his musical career after graduating high school.

    In an interview for a feature story published last year, Roberts said he does not think of himself as a “big thing,” but attributes his talents as “a huge blessing from God, for sure.”

  • Group raises funds for scholarships

    051321 fundraiser 1TONY FARKAS| TCNS Heather Stenson serves up a heaping tray of crawfish to a customer at the fourth annual crawfish boil fundraiser for the Trinity Community Fair Association, held Friday at the Trinity Community Center.

    By Tony Farkas

    TRINITY — Hot crawdads, smooth drinks and great tunes help put kids through school.

    The Fourth Annual Trinity Community Fair Association Crawfish Boil Scholarship Fundraiser, held Friday at the Trinity Community Center, netted $10,600 for scholarships.

    Even with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fundraiser ended up being the largest event to date, with the TCFA selling 900 tickets, or 90 tables, and feeding about 1,200 people, according to organizer Tally Jo Stout.

    Stout said that every kid that shows at the Community Fair and generates $600 in the sale — be it through livestock or construction trades — gets a scholarship. That amounts to about 35 a year ranging from $250 to $750.

    “The TCFA is investing in you, whether you go to college or go to trade school,” she said. “We do not care what — college, trade, even gaining a certification — but it has to be school-related. Typically, we generate $10,000 from this event, and we have an endowed scholarship donor who will match that amount.”

    051321 fundraiser 2TONY FARKAS | TCNS Taylor Albright begins to dig into her tasty treat.

    Stout said the scholarships go to the child no matter the age; however, if the child is not of graduation age, the money is held in an account with Edward Jones until the child graduates. If students join the military, scholarship funds are held until they separate from service.

    The scholarships are awarded at the awards banquet held each year.

    “Last year, both my children, Valerie and Jace, received scholarships of $1,400 apiece,” Stout said. “We’ve been able to give 15 so far, and the rest are sitting in escrow.”

    As well as food, Double Shot of Livingston provided music for the night, and area distributors donated beverages of both the adult and child variety. The local FFA and volunteers set up tables; a good time was had by all.

  • 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.
  • Groveton rocked by mayor’s death

    mayorCOURTESY PHOTO Mayor Richards of Groveton

     
    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — Mayor Byron Richards of Groveton passed away on Monday from complications due to COVID-19.

    Funeral services are pending.

    Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Bennett said that Richards died last night, but he was not aware of it until he received a call at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday from a fellow City Council member.

    “This is a shocking development,” Bennett said. “It’s hard for me to believe that he’s gone. We were aware he had possibly contracted the virus, and he had taken himself and his wife to CHI St. Luke’s Hospital in Lufkin.”

    Bennett also said that Richards contacted him Monday afternoon.

    “He told me over the phone that he wasn’t going to make it,” Bennett said. “It was a hard phone call to get. I’m still shook by it.

    “He thanked the secretaries for the job they’ve done for the city, and thanked the Council for backing him 100 percent,” Bennett said. “He said that I would do a good job for the city.”

    County Judge Doug Page, who also serves as the county’s Emergency Management director, called the news shocking.

    He said that Richards found out he had contracted the virus on New Year’s Eve.

    “As long as we’ve been dealing with the coronavirus, it’s the quickest I’ve heard of it taking someone down,” Page said. “It’s hitting close to home, and we will react appropriately at the county level.”

    Bennett said Richards’ wife, Sandi, also had contracted the disease, but has improved and been taken home.

    Bennett described Richards as a very humble man who was extremely passionate about Groveton.

    “The projects with the downtown renovations and changes with the water well, Richards was adamant about getting that done for the betterment of the community,” Bennett said.

    Bennett said the city plans to carry out all current projects.

    “We shouldn’t lose any continuity in those. I have a good idea of what to do,” he said. “It was always a dream for the council to bring about change the city, and the mayor was the perfect face for that.”

    Bennett said he will assume mayoral duties.

    Page said the county will continue to follow all state edicts regarding COVID-19.

    He also said there will be a free coronavirus testing from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Thursday at the Volunteer Fire Department in Trinity.

  • Ham radio: hobbyists offer valuable service

    German amateur radio contest station 2017German amateur radio contest station 2017 Ptolusque, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    By Chris Edwards

    HOUSTON COUNTY – Sometimes a hobby is more than just a way to pass the time (and spend money.) In the case of amateur radio operators (ham radio) the hobby is one that is more of a valuable service that can be a lifeline in times of need.

    Houston County has its own group of “ham” operators, the Houston County Amateur Radio Club. The club is affiliated with the Amateur Radio Relay League, which was founded in 1914. Through that affiliation, the club can help anyone who is interested in becoming a member get licensed to operate ham radios, and even work on them. There are currently three levels of certification for ham operators: technician, general and extra.

    The first level is the entry point into ham radio, and as to how long it takes a person to acquire the certifications, well, it just depends, according to Van L. Sims. Sims, who has been involved with ham radio since the 1970s, and serves as the club’s treasurer, said the main purpose of the certification tests is to learn the ins and outs of the different bands, or the frequency allocations.

    A ham radio station can be set up anywhere, such as in field or in one’s home. Club vice president Larry Small said “When all else goes down, if we’ve got a 12-vote battery, and some wire, we can talk anywhere.”

    Amateur radio operators have a basic, working knowledge of radio technology and pass examinations to operate on radio frequencies known as the “amateur bands,” which are allocated by the Federal Communications Commission for use by ham operators.

    Ham operators have been essential in times of disaster and are often unsung heroes. Sims noted that 5,000 hams provided all of the communication in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. Hams also provided essential services after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana in 2005.

    The Houston County club derives its operating expenses from fundraisers, and they have five each year, although their 2020 fundraising activities were curtailed by COVID. The club’s current big project is to convert one of its four repeaters to solar power. Sims said of the project that in a time of emergency, if there is a massive power outage, the ham operators will still be able to get essential communications across with solar power.

    Sims is quick to point out how grateful the club is to the late David Lamb. Lamb, who served as the county’s emergency management coordinator, was able to obtain a great deal of equipment for the club, including its bus.

    The club is also planning on installing a ham station in the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Randy Hargrove is a ham operator and serves as the club’s president.

    The club, whose call sign is WA5EC, meets at 7 p.m. on every second Tuesday of each month at the old National Guard Armory (EOC Building) which is located at the corner of Edministon Drive and Christy Lane near the Davy Crockett Park in Crockett. Anyone who has an interest can join the club, and dues are $15 per member, annually. It has a field day planned for Saturday, June 26, beginning around noon, at the Davy Crockett Park.

  • 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.

  • Interview with Covid survivors (VIDEO)


    covid interviewCALEB FORTENBERRY | PCPC Livingston Volunteer Fire Chief, Corky Cochran and Livingston Junior High Coach, John Taylor speak on their experience of surviving Covid-19 in the exclusive East Texas News interview.

     

     

  • Interviews with WWII veterans

    coogler3FILE PHOTO | COURTESY OF POLK COUNTY MEMORIAL MUSEUM J.D. Coogler

    By Brian Besch

    LIVINGSTON - One of the treasures of the Polk County Memorial Museum are recordings that some of the staff have begun compiling. With Veteran’s Day so near and many of the usual events canceled from Covid-19, some of the museum’s more timely are interviews with World War II veterans.

    In conversations with Polk County Historical Commission co-chair Joyce Johnston and others, a few of the Polk County heroes speak of their role in one of the world’s most well-known events.

    Jimmy Parker was on one of the 16 planes from the Doolittle Raid, the American air strike that was retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    “General (James) Doolittle came in and said, ‘We’re going on a mission. We’re going to bomb one of our enemies in war and deliver these aircrafts to one of our allies.’” Parker says in the interview.

    “We were supposed to go in the afternoon. Doolittle was going to light up the city and we were going to go in and bomb where the lights were.”

    J.D. Coogler spoke of his service overseas in Italy as an engineer and top turret gunner.

    Coogler spent around nine or 10 months flying missions in Italy, where once he landed, said he knew he “was in the combat area then.”

    The veteran also told of facilities and supplies at the camp, friends in his camp who were shot down in action, as well as some of his missions.

    Some of his stories included having to help land a plane after an engine going out and dropping bombs over Czechoslovakia.

    Avery Merdolf Walker told of his time graduating Livingston High School in 1941, going on to letter in football, basketball and track at Sam Houston State. He would also play a year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Walker was drafted after Pearl Harbor was attacked and he was placed in the Army combat engineers.

    “We mostly did work; we didn’t do much fighting,” Walker said in the recording. “We did all kinds of road work and construction work, and on the island of Guam, we built a big runway that the B-29s took off from that dropped the atomic bombs that ended the war.”

    These interviews and many others can be found on the museum’s website at http://www.polkcountymemorialmuseum.com/oral-history/