The COVID-19 pandemic intensified as it stubbornly dragged into 2021, overwhelming hospitals and killing 134 Nacogdoches County residents, but even in the darkest days, our community’s response always gave us hope.

It’s not the darkness that is our top story of the year for 2021. Instead we want to focus on the way our community came together.

We want to thank all the helpers. That ranges from the overwhelmed hospital staff who directly cared for coronavirus patients to the store clerks we saw wiping down shopping carts and handing out free face masks.

Each of them are community heroes who played vital roles in protecting lives during extraordinarily trying times. Every small step counted and made Nacogdoches a better and safer place to live.

Everyone who pitched in for relief, prevention and recovery impressed us. It’s true, but no one impressed us more than those who ran our community’s shot clinics like a well oiled machine.

They gave shots like clockwork. During peak demand for COVID-19 vaccinations, firefighters, nurses and Stephen F. Austin State University nursing students gave at least 200 shots an hour. The average time from getting in line to receiving a shot was less than 10 minutes We timed it on multiple occasions.

Watching everyone at the clinic work was truly a sight to behold. Everyone pitched in from the staff at the animal shelter workers to county commissioners

We chatted briefly with Commissioner Robin Dawley as he ferried people in and out of the expo center parking lot.

We saw City Manager Mario Canizares direct patients to tables where they filled out paperwork.

Library Director Mercedes Franks, who never missed working at one of the large scale shot clinics, helped patients fill out paperwork and answered questions for Spanish speakers.

We watched from a far as Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital pharmacy director David Schaefer and what seemed like dozens of others typed away at keyboards recording vaccination data. Visit Nacogdoches director Sherry Morgan checked on us as we were leaving. And all along the path to vaccination were firefighters and other city and county workers.

They did an amazing job and we applaud them.

We would be remiss not to mention the stellar contributions from Nacogdoches Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger, who managed and improved the logistical masterpieces.

Kiplinger’s humble. He won’t take the credit he deserves, and we respect that.

We won’t brag about his work other than to say that we ran into him one Saturday afternoon outside the downtown fire station. He was preparing to take vaccines to two people who couldn’t make it to a Friday shot clinic.

We strongly encourage the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce to consider him as Citizen of the Year in 2022. At the very least have him accept the award on behalf of all vaccination clinic workers and volunteers.

Now the vaccination effort is diminishing because demand has fallen.

Around 46% of our residents are fully vaccinated. Many are hesitant or refuse to take a shot.

We’ve encouraged vaccinations repeatedly in this space and believe the shots are the best way to prevent serious illness or death from COVID-19.

As mass vaccination clinics fade into the past, we’ll always be thankful for them, those beacons of hope in the darkness.

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