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Bartie calls for continued caution; Branick says hair stylist closure surprised him

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said the city will allow its “Stay at Home, Work Safe” executive order to expire Thursday as a result of Gov. Greg Abbott’s two-phase plan to reopen the economy in Texas, but he’s asking citizens to exercise continued caution.

“I’m asking everyone to just wear masks, man,” Bartie said, adding masks and gloves are only suggested, not required, in Port Arthur. “Listen to the governor closely. He said what we’ve known all along: The most vulnerable people are those 65 and older. He asked that population to stay home.”

Bartie called it “a strange dichotomy” that restaurants, retail stores and many other businesses will be allowed to open (up to 25 percent of the maximum occupancy) while everyone, he believes, can be protected by staying home during the pandemic.

“I would ask citizens of Port Arthur to be prudent and use common sense,” he said.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick signed his own order at noon Monday basically adopting the governor’s measures.

Abbott’s order takes effect Friday.

“He was superseding more local issues on the things he’s addressing,” Branick said. “There are people on both sides of the issue. Some believe there needs to be a complete lockdown while some have said they need the economy to be reopened.”

Branick said he anticipated the measures Abbott took Monday, but felt Abbott would have allowed barbershops and hair salons to reopen as well. That won’t happen until May 18 at the earliest, if Abbott feels the fight against coronavirus allows Texas to progress to the second phase of his plan.

“I know there are a lot of people who work in barbershops and salons that were not eligible for benefits and that sort of thing,” Abbott said. “I know they are devastated.”

While Bartie’s, Branick’s and Abbott’s executive orders each call for stiff penalties if violated, it will take more self-policing from citizens to adhere to social distancing guidelines to stem the spread of coronavirus, Bartie said.

“What I do know is that we haven’t contained the virus,” Bartie said. “We had three new cases (Monday) in Port Arthur. We’ve got to use better judgment.”

Port Arthur announced three new positive cases of coronavirus Monday, bringing the city’s total to 43. The new cases include a female between ages 25-30, a male between ages 50-55 and a hospitalized male between ages 55-60. The first two patients are quarantining.

“We’ve got to look at, if we don’t do this right, school won’t begin in August, which will create a very ugly monster for us,” Bartie added.

Branick acknowledged the impact the pandemic has had on the local oil industry. The “Stay at Home” precautions against COVID-19, he said, decreased the nationwide need for refined petroleum.

“It doesn’t help us,” Branick said. “We [in Jefferson County] make about 50 percent of the commercial aviation fuel and 70 percent of the military aviation fuel in the United States. We make about 10 percent of diesel fuel in Jefferson County and a little bit more of that in gasoline.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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