(TNS) - Jefferson County surpassed a grim milestone Wednesday, surging beyond 1,000 positive cases of coronavirus since the first one was logged in Beaumont on March 18.
The distinction came by way of 32 new cases, slightly fewer than either of the previous two days. The daily reports were released hours after a countywide mask order went into effect at noon, the latest effort to slow the spread of infection by requiring employees and customers to wear masks or other face coverings.
It came on the same day that Gov. Greg Abbott said the state would surpass 5,000 new cases for the second day in a row. He told an Amarillo radio station that Texas was experiencing a “massive outbreak.”
Across Jefferson County, the number of cases confirmed in nearly every city is rising faster than has been seen before. Beaumont, with nearly half of the population, accounts for about 75% of the 1,003 confirmed cases here so far.
Both County Judge Jeff Branick and Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames declined to comment Wednesday on the 1,000-case milestone. Branick said he had nothing to add from a day earlier, when he announced the masking mandate.
“Our COVID death rates this week are the lowest since March 28, but our daily cases are up,” he said then, referring to the data he looks at. “Nationally our hospitalizations are down, but not locally.”
Hospitalization numbers for coronavirus patients continued to rise on Wednesday as well.
The seven-day average of confirmed coronavirus patients in general beds or in isolation at local hospitals is approaching what it was on the April 18 peak day, according to data provided by the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
The seven-day rolling average then was nearly 24. On Tuesday, that average was 20.
The number of patients admitted to intensive care units and confirmed to have the virus have far surpassed previous growth rates and continue to spike.
June 12 was the first and so far only day since the pandemic began that all local ICU beds were occupied. That number included 13 confirmed coronavirus patients.
Since then, Jefferson County hospitals have cumulatively filled as many as 81 of their 86 ICU beds.
On Tuesday, 72 ICU beds were in use. That included 23 confirmed coronavirus patients — 56% more than on June 12.
Concerns also have been raised this week about hospital capacity. Federal law mandates that hospital ICUs be able to attain a “surge capacity” equal to 20% more bed space. That would be 17 more ICU beds in Jefferson County.
It’s unclear how that capacity would be achieved, however.
Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas spokeswoman Mary Poole said every hospital in the state has to determine how many ICU beds it could provide and report that to, in Jefferson County’s case, the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
Poole said “surge” capacity goes beyond those numbers and is a plan established by local government officials.
Beaumont Police Department spokeswoman Carol Riley previously told The Enterprise that the city has already made plans should such capacity be needed. But few details about those plans have been shared.
The local hospitals also are averaging far below the maximum number of general beds available to all patients.
Jefferson County also has not logged a virus-related death since June 10.
Nationally, medical experts have noted that a rise in deaths can follow a spike in confirmed cases.
However, the picture of a coronavirus patient also continues to change, trending more toward younger, generally lower-risk individuals.
The majority of cases confirmed in Jefferson County have been split almost equally between patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
The age groups with the fewest cases is nearly even across the age groups of children younger than 10 years old and people older than 80 years old.
In adjacent Hardin County, with a population less than a quarter of Jefferson County and a far smaller number of confirmed virus cases, also reported a spike in positive, active cases.
County Judge Wayne McDaniel’s weekly report showed a 146% increase over the prior week. Thus far, 212 Hardin County residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Sixty-nine of those cases are active.
McDaniel added that the number of county residents who have had to be hospitalized or who have died as a result of the virus has not shown a corresponding increase.
“Due to the surge in cases, there has been a mad rush to be tested for COVID-19 throughout Southeast Texas,” he wrote in his report.
“Anyone who wants to be tested should do so, but it is not a must! Your first option for being tested is through your primary care physician. If he/she is unable to test or direct you to a private testing location, then please contact your Public Health Department and they will assist you.”
Hardin County has announced at least one opportunity for residents to be tested as well as an additional one put on in Silsbee by the state of Texas.
Beaumont also has announced a number of opportunities to be tested in addition to opportunities advertised by the Texas Department of Emergency Management at tdem.texas.gov/covid-19/.
Mayor Becky Ames recently addressed the need to continue testing.
“Some will say when you test more, you’re going to have more positives. Yep, that is true,” she said. “They’re real positives. That means, if that person goes out to a facility, wherever that may be, they can spread it to someone else.”
Kaitlin Bain is the Government Reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise. Contact her at Kaitlin.Bain@BeaumontEnterprise.com or on Twitter by clicking here.
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