STEPHEN HEMELT — Keep lines of communication open throughout coronavirus fallout

Published 12:08 am Saturday, March 14, 2020

Stressful, concerning, nerve-racking.

Those are some of the common feelings in a coronavirus-fueled world.

Every member in our community has been impacted by this growing pandemic, yet its actual footprint in Port Arthur and Mid-County is fairly small.

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President Donald Trump’s address to the nation Wednesday evening escalated news coverage of the disease’s fallout across the country.

The Port Arthur News was no different.

Thursday was spent in near complete coronavirus reaction-coverage mode.

Our news team jumped to the task of informing readers at and in our printed edition about school closures, testing options, festival news, airport concerns and much more.

We worked to interview more than 25 local leaders and community members about fallout and their plans moving forward.

Most were, obviously, very busy but receptive, realizing how important it is to address this situation with facts and transparency.

A few, strangely, were not.

Some leaders avoided our phone calls and requests for comment altogether. Others, when reached, were annoyed we were even seeking comment or clarification concerning the coronavirus impact to local residents.

We get that it’s not a fun topic to speak about. It’s especially difficult to answer when you have a leadership position and realize your actions are going to be judged down the road.

That is difficult, but it comes with the territory should you make the decision to run for office or accept an appointment to a position of power and prestige.

The Port Arthur News is going to continue to report on the current events that come from coronavirus and its various impacts on local life. Our community deserves reasonable answers and good faith transparency. I hope our leaders feel the same way.

Some other coronavirus-related thoughts:

Kudos to the dedicated team behind the Nederland Heritage Festival.

According to the powers that be, not only was it never considered that the event shut down, they also say barely anyone even suggested the option.

I have attended the event, in some form, every day. My son, through his Boy Scout troop, has volunteered each day (he is off Sunday) and my wife is volunteering Sunday.

Considering those most precious to me are right in the thick of the action, I still believe the right decision was made to operate the event as scheduled.

I recognize the worst-case implications of coronavirus are deadly, but those statistics have not borne out enough locally to necessitate closure. I’m actually in the camp that we’ve closed too much.

Those who are sick or fear getting sick should stay home and seek treatment. They should not be penalized for this; however, this medical event’s fear factor is causing more harm than necessary.

I’m an early riser and early attendee of a local gym, usually arriving at 5 a.m.

My gym has been packed in the weeks since Jan. 1 due to a registration special and rush of New Years resolution exercise seekers.

Yet, those numbers changed at the end of this week. Fears of coronavirus, and more specifically mass gatherings, clearly led some people to stay home.

I often complain to my wife that the gym has been too crowded in January and February, but the view early Friday morning was worse. It was nearly empty.

The fabric of our lives is drastically changed due to coronavirus. We’re stressed, concerned and nerve-racked. It might all turn out to be completely warranted, but we’re not as connected as we were a week ago.

Our community is hurting. Because of that, my best wishes go out to our leaders seeking to bring answers, safety and well-being back for all of us.

We need their help now, more than ever.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News. Reach him at 409-721-2445 or