Inside look at Mid, South County’s six-fold COVID-19 jump over 5 weeks

Published 12:19 am Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An African American female between 50 and 55 years old became the eighth coronavirus-related death in Port Arthur.

The Port Arthur Health Department on Tuesday morning confirmed the fatality, which is also the 10th in Mid- and South County. Two residents of Nederland have died from causes related to COVID-19.

Health officials say the latest victim had underlying conditions. The PAHD typically does not identify victims, citing privacy laws.

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“It would be safe to say she may have been in the hospital for about a week,” PAHD Director Judith Smith said.

The latest death comes as Port Arthur, Nederland, Port Neches and Groves combined have seen a big spike in COVID-19 cases during the past five weeks. The total number of infections skyrocketed to 671 as of July 13, more than six times the number on June 6 (109 total). Port Arthur alone has nearly witnessed the same pattern in that 38-day period, going from 68 to 375.

Smith, whose department serves the four cities, said neither she nor her staff has been able to pinpoint a single cause for the big curve. She did notice the novel virus was spreading heavily among young adults, ages 18-35.

“The only thing I can say, I was counting the weekends between June 26 and July 10. I did a manual count because I noticed the last couple of weeks a lot of people in their 20s and 30s [contracting COVID-19],” Smith said. “I counted 151 between the ages of 18 and 35.”

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said Tuesday he is extending his executive order, mirroring Gov. Greg Abbott’s edict for Texans in counties with more than 20 coronavirus cases to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while in public. A first-time violator could receive a warning, while each subsequent violation could result in a fine of up to $250.

Branick’s order, which first went into effect June 24, originally required businesses to enforce policies for customers to wear masks.

“Before the mask ordinance was in place, we started to see a decline in that,” Smith said. “Community spread had already happened. Once community spread started, it’s definitely hard to get a hold on that. There were many people in public places who chose not to wear masks. Once that ordinance was in place, it’s still not surprising the numbers went up because community spread had started.”

Port Arthur had gone 10 straight days (May 17-26) without a positive test.

Branick, however, is hopeful a downward trend in local COVID-19 cases is beginning as a result of face coverings.

According to a chart on daily confirmed cases in Jefferson County he provided, the number rose higher than 200 on July 9, but dropped considerably to about 80 on July 10, about 20 on July 11, less than 20 on July 12 and about 80 on July 13.

Jefferson County has totaled 2,370 infections.

“My orders are the same as the governor’s,” Branick said, adding he was reached about 20 minutes after extending the order. “I spoke to the governor on Saturday. We had a long conversation. He feels with the incubation period, we’ll see some decrease. We saw a decrease Saturday and Sunday. I’m hoping that’s a trend downward. We’ll watch the numbers this week. We’ll continue to mask order.”

Branick explained in an incubation period, a person could have exposure to the virus and not display symptoms for two weeks.

“We’re getting to a point where we can accurately judge the effectiveness of the mask order,” he said.

Rise in coronavirus cases in Mid- and South County

This chart illustrates the rise in total number of positive coronavirus results for Port Arthur, Nederland, Groves and Port Neches since May 26, the last of 10 straight days in which Port Arthur had gone without recording an infection (Source: Port Arthur Health Department):

                        PA     Ned   Gr.    PN     Total

May 26           60       15       10       8          93

June 6             68       16       16       9          109

July 1              191     54       42       33       320

July 6              239     78       51       41       409

July 10            349     127     76       70       622

July 14            426     133     91       87       737

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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