Answer Line: No COVID-19 vaccine requirements at Longview hospitals

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QUESTION: Did Longview’s two hospital systems require employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19?

Both hospitals cited guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Though not required, in accordance with CDC and Department of Health guidelines, Christus Good Shepherd has encouraged our associates and providers to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Christus Good Shepherd spokesman Will Knous.

Longview Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Libby Bryson said, “We remain consistent in following CDC guidelines, which do not require health care providers to be vaccinated. While we continue to educate and encourage vaccination, we are not requiring vaccination for our employees.”

Q: Why are there so many new smoke and vapor shops opening up in Longview? I thought the law shut them down years ago. What changed?

A: I think you’re remembering the 2014 case involving several former local stores — The Glass Dragon and Longview Vapor Store — that were raided and the owners charged with selling synthetic drugs.

But yes, you are right. We are seeing an increase in the number of vapor and smoke shops.

Mindy Robertson, Region 4 Prevention Resource Center data coordinator, told me there are 226 licenses in Gregg County for stores that sell tobacco. (She said that includes and consists mostly of vapor stores.)

The Prevention Resource Center is housed at the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and “serves as the regional data collection and distribution entity engaged in assessing substance use risk and protective factors for the region,” the council’s website says. The region consists of 23 Northeast Texas counties.

The Prevention Resource Center employs a tobacco specialist whose job is to perform “compliance checks,” making sure stores are following laws regarding signage and how close they are to schools and churches, for instance, Robertson said.

Vapes initially were popular because of the flavors, she said. Then, for teenagers, they became something they smoked because it was taboo.

But, she also pointed to the pandemic as another reason for the increase in vapor stores. When people are uncomfortable — and the pandemic has made people uncomfortable as the world socially distanced and wore masks — they look for ways not to feel uncomfortable, Robertson said. Some people use substances, including nicotine, or behaviors.

“It’s not to feel better. It’s to feel different, because we’re all uncomfortable,” she said.

Another reason there are so many stores, Robertson said, is because they are “highly profitable.”

“You can make a large amount of money in a vape store very quickly,” she said, and the licensing is “rather loose.”

She said because society has been “stifled up” until recently, there will be and has been an increase in drinking and driving and drinking and driving fatalities, barn parties and similar activities as teens who missed prom or graduation, for instance, look for ways to get together. Drinking and smoking typically go together, she said, and young people who might think cigarettes are “nasty” often think vaping is OK.

Many of the stores do also sell CBD, or cannabidiol, products. Longview police spokesman Brandon Thornton told me CBD products can be sold so long as they contain less than .3 percent THC, the main ingredient in marijuana that has psychoactive effects. Thornton said the police department would respond to complaints about suspicions that products contain more than the allowed amount.

However, Robertson said since there’s no federal regulation of CBD product,s the amount of THC in the products can be “tricky.” It can be “super high” and a person using the product wouldn’t know.

— Answer Line appears Thursday and Saturday. Email questions to answerline@news-journal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview,TX 75606.

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