County nervous over virus surge
As residents enjoy rediscovered freedom from self-quarantines and reopened businesses and parks, Jackson County as well as the entire state has not surprisingly experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The Jackson County count jumped from zero to 15 active cases within just one week, while the state has seen hospitalization and infection rates both increase significantly. The results have motivated government officials at all levels to yank back the reins on the Re-Open Texas plan and implement new restrictions in an attempt to mitigate the viral surge.
A letter — co-signed by Jackson County Judge Jill Sklar, Edna Mayor Lance Smiga, Ganado Mayor Clinton Tegeler and La Ward Mayor Richard Koch — was issued last week by the Jackson County Office of Emergency Management which advised residents of the uptick in COVID-19 cases.
The letter advised, “As Jackson County leaders, we want you to know that we are seeing an uptick in the number of patients that are testing positive for COVID-19. Less than a week ago, we had zero active cases and now we have 15. Additionally there are well over 100 tests from Jackson County Hospital that are waiting to be analyzed by the lab. Our surrounding counties are also seeing a rise in cases as well. However, as we have said from the beginning, the number of people that test positive for COVID-19 is not as big of a concern as is the number of patients that are needing additional medical treatment in order to overcome the virus. With that being said, the State of Texas, as well as our surrounding area, is seeing a rise in the number of patients that are needing to be hospitalized. If these trends continue, Jackson County Hospital, as well as the surrounding hospitals that our citizens often go to, will begin to be stressed.”
“Right now our hospital is doing well,” said Judge Sklar, who explained that the Jackson County Hospital District does not currently have COVID patients in the hospital and the hospital is not set up for those. Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 is transported to other facilities, such as those in Victoria. But facilities are now feeling pressure to accommodate patients.
“The system starts to back up, and one of our concerns is that the system becomes so backed up that our hospital is having to treat COVID patients and we run out of hospital beds here,” said Sklar. While Jackson County leaders are working hard to inspire community cooperation, the state authorities in Austin are taking a more heavy handed approach. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state will temporarily pause any further phases to open Texas as the state responds to the recent increase in positive cases and hospitalizations. Businesses that are permitted to open under the previous phases can continue to operate at the designated occupancy levels and under the minimum standard health protocols provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“As we experience an increase in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” said Gov. Abbott. “The last thing we want to do is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business. The more that we all follow these (CDC) guidelines, the safer our state will be.”
However, less than 24 hours after issuing that statement, the Governor issued an executive order limiting certain businesses and services. This decision comes as the number of hospitalizations increased and the positivity rate moved above 10 percent, which the Governor previously stated would lead to further action.
The Governor’s order mandates that bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages. Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50 percent of total listed occupancy, beginning June 29, 2020. Rafting and tubing businesses must close, and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more must be approved by local governments.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10 percent, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Abbott. “At this time, the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part.”
“We absolutely must stop the spread of COVID-19 in Texas,” added Texas Medical Association President Diana L. Fite, MD. “Gov.Abbott’s actions are intended to do just that. But Texans also need to take responsibility to protect ourselves and each other from this virus without government mandates. I know we are all smart enough to do this on our own: wash our hands frequently, stay home when possible, and practice social distancing and wear masks.”
“We are reminding everyone to continue to follow CDC guidelines,” concluded the letter by the Jackson County Office of Emergency Management. “Proper hygiene, social distancing, face coverings, and avoiding large gatherings are ways to avoid spreading the virus. We were extremely concerned in March when businesses had to close their doors and could not reopen. This was bad for businesses, consumers and our community. We are asking everyone to take the necessary steps to slow the spread of this virus so that we do not end up in that situation again. Additionally, adhering to CDC guidelines will ensure that our local healthcare facilities are not overwhelmed and have the capacity to not only care for COVID patients, but also our friends and family that may need emergency care.”
Judge Sklar reiterated her concern for the pending 100-plus COVID tests which have not yet been analyzed.
“The hospital rate is going up every single day, statewide,” she said. “I would imagine it has some to do with the re-opening of businesses possibly, but I think even more so it has more to do with gatherings. We just had our Memorial Day weekend, all the recent protests and Father’s Day last weekend where families got together. It’s not just the re-opening.”
With the virus surging, some neighboring communities have begun to mandate the wearing of masks in public. Victoria begins mandatory masks this week, and El Campo is voting on a similar measure as well. But Sklar said she respects people’s liberty and is reluctant to issue a mandate.
“I do believe people, including myself, have become more lax about taking precautions. I think we have all let our guard down. It’s time for us to rethink and refocus,” she said.
“As much as we talked about it, planned for it, and worked against it in April,” said Sklar, “We are in a worse situation now than we were in April.”