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As Houston celebrates July 4, COVID-19 threat lingers for many unvaccinated

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As Houston celebrates July 4, COVID-19 threat lingers for many unvaccinated

This Fourth of July was a return to normalcy for Jersey Village, where a few hundred revelers cheered as a parade of emergency vehicles, hot rods and homemade floats made their way down Jersey Drive.

Residents set up chairs to watch outside and dotted their single-family homes and pristine front lawns with American flags.

A year ago, COVID-19 hospitalizations were surging in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott reversed his reopening plan ahead of Independence Day, as experts warned of the dangers of people gathering together over the holiday. A wave of deaths peaked in July; a second, deadlier one crested in January.

Universal availability of COVID-19 vaccines has helped Texas and other states bring the virus under control. Rates of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have plummeted, allowing normal life to mostly resume.

But Harris County’s vaccination rate just this week passed 50 percent, well below President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent by July 4. And the discovery of the highly contagious delta variant here poses a risk for the half of the population that has yet to be inoculated.

Still, Jersey Village residents welcomed a parade this year. The small municipality in northwest Harris County didn’t cancel last year’s affair, though there were far fewer attendees and those who did celebrate wore masks and socially distanced themselves, according to Angela Carranza, 40, who moved to Jersey Village at the start of the pandemic.

“It feels great to be outside without having to wear a mask, to have our families here and feel safe and gather with other people. We moved here during the middle of COVID so we didn’t really have a chance to meet our neighbors, now we feel like we’re a little more connected to the community,” Carranza said.

Bob Woodward, who has lived his whole life in the Houston area, said that even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he had noticed that Fourth of July events were less extravagant compared to the days of his youth. The Jersey Village resident said he heard about the parade on the radio Sunday morning and jumped at the opportunity to join the celebration.

“It’s fantastic,” Woodward, 50, said. “Community is important and we kind of lost that in the past year.”

After the final vehicle in the parade went by, paradegoers streamed into nearby Clark Henry Park for the July 4th Festival, which featured bouncy houses for children, live music and vendors with the Jersey Village Farmers Market.

Multiple attendees, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, said they felt safe attending the event since it was held outdoors.

“It feels really good to be back doing a normal activity, semi-normal I guess with what’s going on. We wanted to celebrate America’s birthday today so we are excited to be out here and enjoy everything,” Cathy Darrell, 51, said.

Carranza is vaccinated, while Darrell and Woodward are not. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo continue to urge all eligible teenagers and adults to get inoculated.

Fewer and fewer residents are receiving the vaccines of late, Harris County data shows. The county health department regularly administered at least 6,000 shots per day from February through April. Since late May, however, the county has rarely given more than 2,000 shots on any day.


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