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Cases decline as deaths increase

Active COVID-19 cases declined slightly over the weekend — the first drop in weeks — but the death toll increased.

Patients who remain contagious were at 755 Tuesday morning, down from 778 Friday but still above the 745 recorded a week ago, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state reported 193 deaths from the coronavirus in Nacogdoches County since the pandemic began. That’s up from 173 total deaths right before the highly contagious delta variant began to spread.

Health care officials have said the vast majority of hospitalizations have been people who have not been vaccinated.

Fifty-four COVID-19 patients were hospitalized here Tuesday morning — roughly 40% of all hospitalizations and 7% of all active cases — with 18 in intensive care, according to South East Texas Regional Advisory Council, a regional health care coalition. The county has 22 operational ICU beds with the ability to expand temporarily to 26.

Local vaccine clinics continue each Friday though the end of October but with shorter hours because of decreasing demand.

“We’re going to shrink the hours a little bit from now on,” said Nacogdoches Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger. “We’re going to go from 9 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m. so we’re not there from 8 to 6.”

Meanwhile, Pfizer said Monday its COVID-10 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and will seek U.S. authorization for that age group in the coming weeks, which could lead to a spike in demand for vaccines.

Earlier this month, FDA chief Dr. Peter Marks told The Associated Press that once Pfizer turns over its study results, his agency would evaluate the data “hopefully in a matter of weeks” to decide if the shots are safe and effective enough for younger kids.

An outside expert said scientists want to see more details but called the report encouraging.

“These topline results are very good news,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, a former FDA vaccine chief. The level of immune response Pfizer reported “appears likely to be protective.”

The Pfizer shot is currently approved for use in children as young as 12. Moderna’s vaccine is approved ages 16 and older, while Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is only approved for adults.

Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine was in short supply in Nacogdoches County when shots first became available around the state. In May, Nacogdoches Fire and Rescue purchased an ultra-cold freezer able to store the vaccine.

“We’ve got plenty of storage as long as the vaccine is available. I could probably store 100,000 vials,” Kiplinger said.

Around 54% of Nacogdoches County residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and just shy of 44% are fully vaccinated. Nearly three quarters of locals 65 and older are fully vaccinated, and more than 81% have received at least one dose. That age group is most likely to face serious complications from the virus.

The Food and Drug Administration is also expected to authorize Pfizer’s booster shots for people 65 and older this week. Boosters are under evaluation for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines.

For elementary school-aged kids, Pfizer tested a much lower dose — a third of the amount that’s in each shot given now. Yet after their second dose, children ages 5 to 11 developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength shots, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president said.

The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience, he said.

“I think we really hit the sweet spot,” said Gruber, who’s also a pediatrician.

Gruber said the companies aim to apply to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for emergency use in this age group, followed shortly afterward with applications to European and British regulators.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Josh Edwards/The Daily Sentinel

A man browses though paintings at ArtFest on Saturday in Downtown Nacogdoches. Artists and artisans filled downtown offering demonstrations and selling their works.

Locomotive, log car leaving SFA

The iconic train on Raguet Street soon will be pulling out of Nacogdoches for the final time.

Moving operations will begin Wednesday, Oct. 6, for the 36-ton Shay locomotive outside Stephen F. Austin State University’s Forestry Building.

Following its transport to Harbor Springs, Michigan, the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society and its partners will conduct much-needed renovations and display the locomotive where it will introduce visitors to the contributions of Ephraim Shay, inventor of the Shay locomotive and longtime Harbor Springs resident.

Built in October 1907 by the Lima Locomotive and Machine Works of Lima, Ohio, the two-truck Shay locomotive ferried countless loads of cut timber from East Texas forests to sawmills in Manning and Camden until the early 1920s.

After remaining idle for nearly half a century at a railroad siding facility in Camden, the locomotive, originally owned by W. T. Carter and Brother Lumber Company, was donated to SFA in 1970.

Since then, it, along with the accompanying Angelina County Lumber Company log car, has stood on the SFA campus as a symbol of the economic and cultural impact of the forest industry on the region.

“While we will certainly miss having this landmark of East Texas forestry history at SFA, we are extremely grateful it has found a new home and will be restored for display at the longtime home of the locomotive’s inventor, Ephraim Shay,” said Dr. Hans Williams, dean of SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture.

The locomotive needs extensive repairs and renovation, but the college is limited by the large cost of such operations, Williams said.

Williams was first contacted by representatives from the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society in April about the possibility of the university transferring ownership of the Shay locomotive.

Since its inception in 1990, the historical society has focused on the acquisition and restoration of Ephraim Shay’s many artifacts, including the steel-clad Shay Hexagon House constructed in 1892, and the all-steel vessel, the Aha, built by Shay in 1894.

“These projects demonstrate the dedication of the historical society, the City of Harbor Springs and the local community to preserving the history of the area in general and the memory of Ephraim Shay in particular,” said Matt Parmenter, Harbor Springs Area Historical Society trustee. “The addition of a Shay locomotive to these artifacts is an important way to further celebrate the legacy of Ephraim Shay.”

Shay was born in 1839 in Ohio but spent much of his life in Michigan. After working as a physician and fighting in the Civil War, Shay purchased a sawmill in Michigan where he developed his locomotive. Shay locomotives were widely used in the Americas, Australia and East Asia in logging and mining operations. Only around 115 of the more than 2,700 Shay locomotives manufactured are believed to still exist today.

The historical society has enlisted the expertise of licensed engineers and historians to assist in the transportation and renovation of the locomotive.

The Angelina County Lumber Company log car will be housed at the Southern Forest Heritage Museum in Long Leaf, Louisiana. This nonprofit museum seeks to develop, preserve and maintain the nation’s most complete and significant sawmill complex and promote and interpret the forest history of the South.

The log car will be displayed next to the museum’s restored McGiffert log loader, which was traditionally used to load harvested logs onto rail cars for transport.

Sarah Fuller is outreach coordinator for Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture. Additional reporting by staff writer Josh Edwards.

Josh Edwards/The Daily Sentinel

A man creates glass art with a blowtorch flame during Saturday’s ArtFest in downtown Nacogdoches.

Sinz seeking re-election

County Court At-Law Judge Jack Sinz has formally announced that he’s seeking reelection.

Sinz, who has held the bench since 2002, had previously filed campaign paperwork with the county election’s office, but made his decision public late last week.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Nacogdoches County,” Sinz said in a statement. “I look forward to earning the opportunity to serve another term. We must return the court to its pre-pandemic efficiency as we continue managing the challenges caused by COVID.”

Sinz will face at least one challenger, Assistant County Attorney Paige Pattillo, in the Republican primary.

The court at-law has general jurisdiction. Sinz presides over half of the family law cases in the county, all class A and B misdemeanor cases, probate and guardianship, mental health commitments, eminent domain, lawsuits of up to a quarter million dollars and eviction appeals.

“The wide variety of cases keeps things interesting and challenging,” Sinz said. “It is actually one of the most appealing aspects of this office. Due to the broad jurisdiction, I must maintain an understanding in many areas of the law, and I enjoy having the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life.”

In 2009, Sinz was the first judge in Nacogdoches County to review and sign from home a search warrant for blood in a driving while intoxicated case. He is still the primary judge responsible for signing blood search warrants.

“Due to the success, after several ‘no refusal weekends’ I agreed to review blood-search warrants whenever needed, making Nacogdoches County a twenty-four-seven ‘no refusal county,’” Sinz said. “If I believe the legal requirements have been satisfied, I will sign the warrant, which allows for the taking, preserving, and scientifically testing of blood, resulting in evidence that can help establish the guilt or innocence of a DWI defendant.”

In 2020 Sinz reviewed around 85 blood search warrants, most of which were on the weekends, between midnight and 5 a.m.

“I am happy to make myself available to law enforcement officers at all hours. I am glad they have my phone number,” said Sinz.

Sinz also started the first speciality court in the county — Mental Health Court. Before the pandemic, that court met twice a month, utilizing a portion of the lunch hour in order to maintain the regular docket.

“When asked by County Attorney John Fleming to consider a mental health court, I agreed, after my court administrator, Lisa Hayter, found the time in our full schedule,” said Sinz. “This specialty court is a joint effort among the court, the County Attorney’s Office, Probation, Burke, and defense counsel. The objective is to identify defendants with mental health needs and reduce recidivism through an intensive supervision program that includes meeting with the court twice per month.”

Sinz has overseen a variety of innovations and programs during his time on the bench, including a streamlined docketing system for criminal cases, a bond forfeiture program, a specialty docket for defendants with suspended drivers licenses and a monthly criminal docket week rather than massive docket-call days.

“Although it would be nice to take credit for all the innovations and improvements, they would not have happened without the involvement and support of John Fleming’s office, County Judge Greg Sowell and the Commissioners Court, the hard work of my dedicated staff, Sheriff Jason Bridges’ department, Director Ty McCarty’s Probation Department, and the assistance of Loretta Cammack’s and June Clifton’s clerk offices, along with other vital participants in the court system. Maintaining a good court system is certainly a team effort,” Sinz said.

Pattillo, who is running against Sinz, said she can “make the court function more proactively,” than the longtime Judge.

After graduating from Baylor Law School in 1993, Sinz began his legal career in Nacogdoches. He met his wife, Tish, here, and they married in 1995. They have four children. The Sinz family are members of First Baptist Church of Nacogdoches.

Sinz is only the second judge for the court at-law. In 2002 he replaced retiring Judge J. Jack Yarbrough, who assumed the bench in 1975 when the Texas Legislature created the court.

Other seats up for grabs in 2022 include:

County Judge

District Clerk

County Clerk

County Treasurer

County Surveyor

County Commissioner, Pct. 2

County Commissioner, Pct. 4

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 1

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4

Traditionally held in March, the 2022 primaries are likely to be delayed because of how late redistricting is happening this year. Lawmakers were back in Austin on Monday to begin the contentious process that is typically finished during the regular session.

Initial census reports puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — up from around 25.1 million in 2010 — after gaining the most residents of any state in the last decade. That growth will translate to two more congressional seats in Washington.

City will pursue contracts for plans

After an hour of discussion in a packed council chamber, Nacogdoches City Council members agreed, Councilwoman Kathleen Belanger notwithstanding, to pursue a contract with an outside consulting firm for two long-range studies.

Tuesday’s discussion-only workshop resulted in no action, but four of the five council members encouraged city staff to prepare for the council’s future consideration a contract with DTJ Design to compile a downtown master plan and comprehensive plan update that would include a housing assessment and Interstate 69 corridor study.

Belanger urged fellow council members to continue to seek ways to save money on the plans, adding she does not believe DTJ is the best contractor for the job.

“I do not think they are our appropriate contractor,” she said. “I think we need to consider some other options.”

She added, “We should do due diligence. We should move forward wisely and with consensus.”

Councilman Roy Boldon said many have asked why the city cannot complete plans in house.

“This is a major undertaking,” Boldon said. “Right now we are not in a position to do it. We are not up to staff in my opinion.”

The cost of both plans is around $450,000, which a growing number of residents speaking against the plans argue could be better spent on pressing infrastructure needs.

Stating that DTJ was selected from a pool of applicants, Councilwoman Amelia Fischer said the city’s portion of the plans is 0.61% of its annual budget.

“I’m unwilling to compromise Nacogdoches’ future based on negative speculation,” Fischer said. “The reason we can’t continue to delay this plan is that I-69 is coming and it will have an impact on this community.”

Residents’ concerns are taken seriously, Fischer added, adding that one concern was not enough emphasis on historic preservation.

“The plan hasn’t even been written yet,” she said. “This plan and its priorities will be reflective of the communities desires and needs, which clearly included historical preservation and addressing our aging infrastructure. Many of the concerns we’ve heard raised as reasons for not having a plan are the things plans are designed to address and prioritize.”

Attempting a piecemeal approach, as some have suggested, is almost guaranteed to cost significantly more, Councilman Jay Anderson said.

“Separating it out into various phases and seeing how one phase goes and trying another — we end up kicking the can down the road again,” he said.

“The city has suffered tremendously from kicking the can down the road in the past.”

It is human nature, he added, to be skeptical of things one doesn’t understand.

“It is also human nature to strive to better all aspects of our lives,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone in this room wants Nacogdoches to be different, but I do think we want it to be better. Without a plan, that interstate can ruin it.”

Josh Edwards/The Daily Sentinel

Two young girls look at a display during Saturday’s ArtFest in downtown Nacogdoches.

Josh Edwards/The Daily Sentinel

A boy plays triangle at a booth devoted to music during the ArtFest on Saturday in downtown Nacogdoches.