CASSANDRA JENKINS — Groves firefighters helping combat coronavirus

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The total cases of COVID-19 hit 51 in Southeast Texas on Tuesday.

Jefferson County alone accounted for 27 cases — 16 in Beaumont, seven in Port Arthur, one in Nederland and one in Groves.

By Tuesday, the call center set up in Beaumont had referred 756 people to be tested since its opening March 20. Over 170 calls were made Tuesday, of that, 83 were tested at the drive-thru site at Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Nederland.

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The call center is now open 24 hours a day, receiving calls from six counties — Tyler, Orange, Jefferson, Hardin, Newton and Jasper.

Drive-thru coronavirus testing is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but can only be used following call center referral.

A second testing site is set up in Hardin County near Silsbee.

During a Groves City Council meeting Monday night, Fire Chief Lance Billeaud said results would come much faster for Southeast Texas with a second site.

“We are using an independent Houston lab,” he said. “It’s not LabCorp and it’s not Quest [Diagnostics], so [the lab] is not bombarded with what LabCorp and Quest are bombarded with.”

Results can be expected within 2-5 days.

Billeaud also gave a brief report on the firefighters’ current duties at the testing site.

“Right now, the county asked if we could send a firefighter between the four cities — Port Arthur, Port Neches, Nederland and Groves — out to the testing site to assist as a runner,” he said. “They didn’t have anyone in between, if the people who were testing needed something, they had to go back to the terminal, come back in and get. It was a waste of time.”

Groves Fire Department has committed the use of a handful of firefighters to assist nurses and emergency operations.

“They are not actually making patient contact,” Billeaud said. “They are maintaining distance from everybody, and if they are getting into an area deemed a ‘hot zone,’ then they are wearing the proper PPE and are protected. We are having a little bit of help out there.”

Firefighters working the clock at the airport are being paid overtime, which will later be reimbursed by the county.

Groves City Manager D.E. Sosa said he wants to commend Billeaud for his actions during this time.

“[Lance] has been on this since the beginning,” Sosa said. “He’s been given a baptism of fire and he has done an excellent job. He has kept me, my staff and the council informed. I want to commend him because we dropped him into the grease pretty quick.”

At Monday night’s meeting, the council also approved a resolution for a drainage easement for the construction of an underground storm sewer near the new Indian Springs subdivision.

Sosa said the culvert would be installed to bring water from the back of Gulfway Drive to the front and into a storm drainage system to combat the pooling of water.

Cassandra Jenkins is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at