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Parks still closed, but Mayor Bartie touts Port Arthur’s resiliency

Certain businesses in Port Arthur and across Texas go back in business Friday, but only to specific occupancy as Gov. Greg Abbott’s two-phase plan to reopen the economy goes into effect.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie, however, is pleading with citizens to proceed with caution.

“[Friday], when it opens up, you might feel like a little baby at Christmastime because Santa Claus has passed by, and your mom and dad has to wait for you to go under the tree,” Bartie said, “… and the next day, you may not want them because you go back to the old toys. Go back to the old way. The old way is, you’ve been at home, anyway. The old way for me is, I haven’t had a shave or a haircut in six or seven weeks.”

Yet, Bartie was his usual dapper self with a feathered top hat and spring suit holding his weekly coronavirus pandemic news conference in the breezeway of city hall Thursday afternoon.

Abbott’s first phase allows retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries to reopen but must limit occupancy to 25 percent of its maximum capacity. Within shopping malls, food courts, play areas and interactive displays must remain closed.

Golf courses such as Port Arthur’s Babe Zaharias Municipal Golf Course may operate as well.

Barbershops, hair salons, bars, bowling alleys and gymnasiums are not allowed to reopen, but Abbott may change that if the containment of coronavirus is strong enough for his reopening plan to move into a second phase by May 18.

Port Arthur’s parks will still be closed, however, as one of few precautions remaining in the city. Despite the pleasant weather that has touched the city in recent days, Bartie asked families to not engage in large gatherings.

“At this time, it’s not,” Bartie said. “We’re going to rethink this next week. We’re going to get with the council and do something after next week. But, if we’re trying to contain this — I’m just going to tell you my personal reason for this — it’s a known fact we have a youngster between the ages of 10 and 15 [confirmed to have coronavirus] in our health center right across the street. Suppose we have parks open, and this child was playing with your child?”

The Port Arthur Health Department on Wednesday confirmed a 10- to 15-year-old boy from Nederland tested positive.

Bartie specifically asked members of the faith community to continue to worship by video streaming or teleconferencing, and those 65 and older remain at home and away from large gatherings.

“Y’all, this thing is real, and if we don’t contain it, we leave ourselves vulnerable in Port Arthur to have [effects of coronavirus] happen to us,” he said. “We can and shall get through this pandemic because we are a resilient people. Because we are resilient, we are people who will listen and understand.

Testing in Port Arthur

At the time of the news conference, Port Arthur had not received a new case of coronavirus since three were confirmed Monday. The city’s total during the pandemic as of Thursday afternoon stayed at 43.

Later on Thursday, the Port Arthur Health Department received confirmation of two additional Port Arthur residents who have tested positive for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). One is a female between the age range of 60-65. One is a male between the age range of 20-25.

Bartie said the city must address the vulnerable population and groups with health disparities, naming African Americans, Hispanics, persons with low income, older adults, homeless or housing insecure, persons with chronic conditions, individuals with special needs, persons with low literacy and numeracy and residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“Even though we’re not recording cases daily, we don’t want the citizens to think that we have arrived at where we really want to be,” Port Arthur Health Director Judith Smith said. “We are still using non-pharmaceutical types of interventions. Because we have no vaccine, we have no antiviral drugs, we still have to be vigilant. Just because we have no case doesn’t mean that we will not. Unfortunately, as we begin to open the city, this is the time now to evaluate again whether [new cases] will increase. We hope it does not.”

Smith was among a number of city officials wearing masks as Bartie spoke near the steps of the breezeway, facing 4th Street. Masks are not mandated for city officials or employees.

COVID-19 testing for Port Arthur citizens by appointment only will be available from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. May 6 at the Bob Bowers Civic Center. To schedule, call 409-550-2536.

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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