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COVID-19 cases could spike after days of protest, health director worries

The death of unarmed Houston-native George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sparked nationwide protests and marches from the world’s largest cities to the smallest.

Sixty thousand gathered in Houston on Tuesday night in support of the Floyd family. Hundreds showed up at the NAACP and city of Port Arthur’s rally, also held Tuesday night at the Pavilion.

These massive public gatherings has left a country recently ravaged by a global pandemic asking, “What about COVID-19?”

Port Arthur Health Department Director Judith Smith said there is a very real possibility that we will see a spike in new cases in the upcoming weeks.

Riceland Health Care and the Port Arthur Health Department paired to provide free COVID-19 testing across three different days in Port Arthur. Left to right: Robert Dillard, Moe Hammdan, Kayla Alexander, Robert Jacobs, Judith Smith, Ronald Fisher and Nataly Perez. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

“It just depends on whether people are going to follow the directions of wearing a mask when they are in these mass rallies,” she said. “If you’re in the crowd, you are going to be right next to somebody. There is no social distancing, so it’s important to wear a face covering. Hopefully that will help the numbers not to increase.”

Smith said the safest way to protest and still protect against COVID-19 is to wear a face covering.

“People get a little lax when they don’t hear the numbers going up,” she said. “In some ways, a lot of people think just those with underlying conditions have to be prepared. We feel like we are protecting ourselves, but the only way it is truly protective is if everybody is wearing a mask, not just one or two people.”

Three new positive cases were reported Monday in Mid-County and Port Arthur.

A Port Arthur female resident ranged between 60-65 years of age. Nederland and Groves also received confirmation on one case each.

On Wednesday, the City of Port Arthur Health Department received confirmation of two additional Port Arthur residents who tested positive for Coronavirus Disease. Both individuals are females between the age range of 35-40. This brings the total to 66 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the City of Port Arthur.

“We’re still reporting,” Smith said. “It’s not a whole lot, but Beaumont is still recording numbers in the teens. We have not contained this yet. We don’t want people to lay down their guard. We still don’t know everything about it.”

After visiting the Port Arthur rally Tuesday night, Smith said she noticed many participants were wearing masks.

“When we’re in public gatherings, we need to be very careful, still wash our hands, use sanitizer when hand washing facilities aren’t close by and stay home when we are feeling sick,” she said. “I am not against the rallies. I think it’s excellent for people to voice their concerns, but we still need to be safe.”

The Port Arthur Health Department hosted the first of three free COVID-19 drive-through testing days on Wednesday.

Partnering with the Beaumont-based Riceland Health Care, testing will be available for two more days in Port Arthur: June 9 at the West Side Development Center, 601 W. Rev. Dr. Ransom Howard Drive and June 11 at the Port Arthur Civic Center, 3401 Cultural Center Drive.

The tests are conducted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Call 409-983-8800 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to make an appointment.

“We’re still reporting,” Smith said. “We have not stopped. It’s not over just yet.”