1st confirmed Jefferson County coronavirus case; Anesthesiologist says coronavirus cases to jump

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2020

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A target date for the arrival of coronavirus test kits at Port Arthur and Jefferson County public health clinics is still not established.

Port Arthur Health Department Director Judith Smith is certain her clinic at 449 Austin Ave. will have the ability to test for coronavirus, or COVID-19, but is unsure exactly when the kits would arrive, she said.

In the meantime, her department has been spreading the message of preventing the spread of the novel virus, including hand washing with soap and water, covering coughs and sneezes and having those 65 and older avoid mass gatherings as much as possible.

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“When you don’t have antivirals or vaccine, the only way you can stop the spread is prevent,” Smith said Wednesday.

Officials at the Jefferson County Health Department in Beaumont said they had not received any kits, either. On Monday, Jefferson County Public Health Director Dr. Cecil Walkes said he expected the tests to arrive by the end of this week. Walkes was away from his office Wednesday.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and Smith said some private doctors do have the test kits available.

“I think we’ve tested more than two,” Jefferson County anesthesiologist Dr. Ray Callas said Tuesday following commissioners’ court. “We have two cases that are concerning to us right now that did not qualify and were negative for the flu, so now we’ve sent coronavirus tests just to see where we stand with those cases in Jefferson County.”

The Beaumont Public Health Department confirmed the first Beaumont resident tested positive for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This individual is currently quarantined.

For confidentiality purposes, BPHD is not releasing any additional information to identify the individual.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation,” BPHD said. “We understand this positive case may concern our community, but at this time there is no evidence of community spread. The immediate risk for Beaumont residents remains low. We have worked very hard planning and preparing for this moment. There are steps in place to safeguard the community.
BPHD is conducting an epidemiological investigation and is working to quickly identify close contacts of the individual.”

Callas strongly believes in a need for more testing.

“I think that what we have walking around, and there are people that are probably infected because we’re limited on the number of tests and we’re also being told we didn’t have the test,” he said. “Now that we’ve opened the commercial side and the public health side, we should start seeing a lot more tests. I’d be willing to bet we’ll see some increase in numbers of coronavirus, even though we have zero right now. I think that you’re going to see cases coming in soon.”

How will the tests work?

The COVID-19 tests would be done with a nasopharyngeal, or NP, swab, Smith said. The swab would then be put in a medium that’s sent to the Texas Department of State Health Services laboratory in Houston or Austin.

In the meantime, some private healthcare providers have the ability to test for COVID-19 and send their kits to private labs, Smith said. She suggested those with coronavirus concerns or who feel ill call their private provider, ask if the provider is conducting the test and inform them of symptoms.

She stresses not everyone can be tested, but patients can call the Port Arthur Health Department with any questions.

“If a doctor is doing an evaluation, they can make the decision on whether the person should be triaged to the emergency room or if that physician should do the test and have it sent to one of the private labs,” Smith said.

The three main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath, Smith said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“If they are symptomatic, other tests will rule out flu or strep,” Smith said. “If there are no other known exposures, [doctors will] test for COVID-19.”

Drive-thru testing?

Smith confirmed that she has met with other emergency management coordinators about the possibility of establishing drive-thru testing, but if or how it will be established won’t be decided until the kits arrive.

“We’re talking with Jefferson County and Beaumont health departments on how to do this on one accord, not necessarily in one location,” Smith said.

To reach the Port Arthur Health Department, call 409-983-8826.

Mobile unit

WIC employees with the Port Arthur Health Department are stationed just outside the lobby to direct clients who would like to be seen but don’t want to go inside to the mobile unit. The employees will take a survey with the clients with COVID-19 related questions.

Christina Patteson, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) director for the department, said some mothers with young children may feel safer and better to keep their family outside and want to get their services with as little interaction with others.

Port Arthur News reporter Mary Meaux contributed to this article.