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Coronavirus Surge Accelerating Across this Texas County

During the stretch that ended Monday, 176 new cases were confirmed across Jefferson County. That is 69% higher than during the seven-day period that ended April 25, the previous local peak before the mid-June surge.

by Kaitlin Bain, Beaumont Enterprise, Texas / June 23, 2020
ASSOCIATED PRESS

(TNS) -- The surge of coronavirus infection is accelerating in Jefferson County, which set a seven-day record for new cases nearly every day over the past week.

During the stretch that ended Monday, 176 new cases were confirmed across the county. That is 69% higher than during the seven-day period that ended April 25, the previous local peak before the mid-June surge. Hospitalizations have continued to rise as well.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bill Bartie, a frequent critic of state efforts to reopen restaurants and other businesses while constricting local officials’ authority to enforce safe practices, described an I-told-you-so moment.

“In May when we were opening back up I said, ‘At the end of June we’re going to be in bad shape’” said Bartie, whose city has recorded 130 cases while struggling to add testing sites.

“Now here we are.”

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.

Sounding the alarm was Gov. Greg Abbott, who in May ordered a phased-in reopening of the businesses that had been shuttered for two months in an attempt to control the outbreak.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, Abbott issued his strongest warning since the reopening began. He did not rule out shutting the state down again, though he called it “always the last option.”

The governor reiterated the importance of washing one’s hands, wearing a face covering in public places and exercising proper social distancing in his public comments.

Officials also stressed that Texas hospitals have adequate capacity to treat coronavirus patients.

Locally, the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council reports that while coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Jefferson County continue to rise, bed capacity here can more than handle the current surge.

Monday’s coronavirus case report showed the city of Beaumont topped 700 cases after confirming 16 new cases on Saturday, 14 on Sunday and 22 on Monday.

Port Arthur confirmed an additional 11 cases on Monday, while a total of seven were confirmed across Port Neches, Nederland and Groves.

This brings Jefferson County to 932 confirmed cases. Three Texas Department of Criminal Justice units in the county have reported an additional 520 cases. The county also has a federal prison.

While cases across the state have continued to rise, Abbott has noted that local leaders have a few additional tools to curb transmission, such as requiring local businesses to require customers and staff members to wear masks.

Harris County, which includes Houston, put that rule into effect on Monday.

No leaders in Jefferson County have issued such an order.

Bartie said Monday that he does not think it would do much without leadership from officials higher-up than him.

Bartie also said the governor took the teeth out of his own enforcement plans at restaurants and other businesses by prohibiting arrests for violators.

“I understand people have to take responsibility for themselves, but we need to see leadership, too,” Bartie said.

Meanwhile, opportunities to be tested for the virus run by the state, local authorities and some nonprofits continue to expand across Beaumont and Port Arthur.

The Texas Department of Emergency Management has a tool on its webpage for more information about available testing sites that is updated as more are established. That information can be found at tdem.texas.gov/covid-19.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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©2020 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas)

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