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Dip in COVID-19 cases ends; “Obviously, I’m disappointed about the increase” – Judge Jeff Branick

The recent dip in positive coronavirus cases in Jefferson County didn’t last very long.

After three consecutive days in which the total number of cases did not exceed 100, the county recorded its second highest number in a single day Tuesday (July 14) with 192 and two deaths, one of them being an African American woman aged 50-55 from Port Arthur. The number surpassed 200 on July 9.

The number went down to 162 on Wednesday. Among those cases, the Port Arthur Health Department announced that a 60- to 65-year-old white woman from Nederland died from complications related to coronavirus. She is the third person from Nederland and 11th from Mid- and South County to succumb to the novel virus.

The county now has 2,728 total cases through Wednesday — a big increase from 714 on June 14. That means more than 1 percent of the county’s total population — estimated at 251,565 — has been infected with COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Port Arthur recorded 26 new positive tests, bringing the city’s total to 452; Nederland recorded six (152 total); Groves recorded six (97 total) and Port Neches recorded five (92 total), according to the Port Arthur Health Department.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed about the increase,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said before Wednesday’s numbers were released.

Branick had hoped a downward trend in infections would continue as a result of a recent executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott. The order requires citizens age 10 and older in Texas counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases to wear a mask over the nose and mouth while in most public establishments, but provides for certain exceptions. Branick on Tuesday signed an order stating Abbott’s orders superseded all local orders.

The rise in cases came the same day the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District released health guidelines for the upcoming school year. The district does not offer an option for virtual learning and instruction, but it is providing around-the-clock sanitizing through OZONE USA and implementing hand-washing policies.

Port Arthur and Nederland independent school districts do offer virtual education options. Nederland will resume classes on Aug. 17, Port Arthur on Aug. 18 and Port Neches-Groves on Aug. 19.

As parents weigh those options, Branick supports the idea of students returning to campuses.

“I’m thinking school is a good idea,” he said. “I think our kids need to be educated and in a classroom setting.”

Learning through live video could be more effective with “college-age” and older people than with younger children, Branick believes. He cited lesser attention spans in younger people as his reason.

Port Arthur Health Department Director Judith Smith said she has met with Port Arthur ISD Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie and Lamar State College Port Arthur President Dr. Betty Reynard via Zoom videoconferencing, adding both shared their reopening plans. Smith said it’s not up to the PAHD, though, to decide whether schools should close.

“… But when questions are posed, we’re going to give information based on how COVID is spread,” Smith said. “We’ll make recommendations based on that. I don’t know how school will look. I fully understand the sentiment of having the same fear of COVID spread. The only thing we can do is offer what we know and help to keep people safe based on what we’re told from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

Smith added she didn’t think the number of positive cases would rise so high in July, the fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic.

Branick says he would be hesitant to limit the amount of in-person learning a child can receive during a pandemic if he is given that power.

“I probably have the authority under the government code, but I would be very hesitant to intrude upon the authority of a school board,” he said.

The Jefferson County Public Health Department sent a reminder Wednesday that all Jefferson County residents who test positive for COVID-19 are required to quarantine 14 days from the date of the test. Those persons should also follow up with appropriate tests and treatments with their physicians according to CDC protocols.

Physicians or entities who test for COVID-19 are reminded they must report those results to the appropriate local health authorities and inform the infected person of the 14-day quarantine requirement.

“We’re having a problem with people not staying at home for 14 days and putting people at risk,” Jefferson County Public Information Officer Allison Nathan Getz said. “We’re trying to reiterate that if you test positive, you have to quarantine for 14 days. That doesn’t mean, go to the grocery store or visit friends. It means, stay home. We’re trying to lower the curve.”

The quarantine would be retroactive to the date the person tested positive.

Coronavirus-related deaths in Port Arthur and Nederland

(NOTE: Port Neches and Groves have not recorded any deaths due to COVID-19; date reflects day in which death was reported by the Port Arthur Health Department.)

  • April 6: Port Arthur white male, aged 45-50, had underlying conditions. Family identified victim as John Kirk Veillon, 47.
  • April 18: Port Arthur African American female, aged 65-70, had underlying conditions.
  • April 21: Port Arthur Hispanic male, aged 65-70, had underlying conditions.
  • April 21: Nederland white female, aged 85-90, had underlying conditions.
  • May 3: Port Arthur white male, aged 65-70, was previously reported as COVID-19 positive and had underlying conditions. Family identified victim as Chris Dwayne Stewts, 68.
  • June 5: Port Arthur African American female, aged 80-85, underlying conditions not known.
  • June 29: Port Arthur African American female, aged 60-65, underlying conditions not known.
  • July 3: Port Arthur African American female, aged 85-90, underlying conditions unknown.
  • July 9: Nederland white female, aged 65-70, had underlying conditions.
  • July 14: Port Arthur African American female, aged 50-55, had underlying conditions.
  • July 15: Nederland white female, aged 60-65, had underlying conditions.

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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