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Coronavirus spike halts Nederland’s reopening plans

NEDERLAND — The continued spike of positive COVID-19 tests involving Nederland residents, including two local coronavirus-related deaths this week, halted the city’s effort to fully reopen community services.

“One month ago we had 17 positives, on (July 10), it was 103,” City Manager Chris Duque said. “In one month’s period that represents an increase of 506 percent. “These numbers are not going in the right way. We are nowhere near flattening the curve.”

City Council members took action this week, voting to close the Nederland Swimming Pool for the rest of the summer. The Council also voted to deny a citizen’s request to host a basketball league and tournament at the gymnasium at Doornbos Park.

Mayor Don Albanese said he is not sure if the city’s COVID-19 case rise is tied to more testing or community members not participating in social-distancing protocols.

“I know there are more people wearing masks,” he said. “I tell everybody to be careful. I don’t think this disease is anymore contagious then it was two or three months ago. I just think people are not adhering to what we should do with crowds and things like that.”

Residents’ access to City of Nederland buildings is limited or not allowed, depending on the location.

To further cut down on hand-to-hand interactions with employees and residents, Nederland recently contracted with a third party vendor to accept payment for water bills over the phone.

There is a $1.25 transaction charge, and those seeking the option can call 866-290-6233 any time of day and access their balance, payment amount and due date.

The library will continue to serve patrons through curbside service only, and the basketball gymnasium is closed.

All park playground equipment remains closed, as well as the large pavilion at Doornbos Park.

Other small gazebos and benches are open.

“I can’t recommend that we move forward at this time trying to open city buildings or expanding services,” Duque said.

“We have already seen what can happen with an entire shift being knocked out at a police department. That happened to our neighbors. As soon as it got into the building, it spread like wildfire and knocked out an entire shift. For small departments like Nederland, that is a huge problem. We don’t have a large bank of officers to fill in.”

Municipal court is still taking place in Nederland.

COVID-19 reporting

During this week’s city council meeting, various leaders expressed frustration with the mismatched reporting of COVID-19 testing results taking place throughout Jefferson County.

One councilman asked if it was possible for all municipalities to contribute to a single report for each day’s testing that noted the severity of individuals’ conditions. He called the current daily coronavirus updates for Nederland “confusing.”

Councilwoman Sylvia Root, agreed, saying the reporting doesn’t make sense.

“You have all the different cities doing different methods, different testing or numbers,” Root said. “Just because you live in this city doesn’t mean you also work in that same city. So you are crossing over. You have lots of people doing that.”

Duque told council members that Nederland is receiving testing information from the Port Arthur Health Department free of charge, adding Nederland does not have its own health department.

Should city council members seek greater or direct access to testing data, Duque said Nederland could contract with a private company to act as the city’s COVID-19 testing operator. He suggested such an expense could possibly be reimbursed because of the pandemic.

“It would be almost like we were our own health authority, running the testing,” Duque said. “For us it would be wanting an entirely turn-key operation. We sign a contract and say this is where you are going to run this and basically turn them loose.

“There would be no assigned staff. We don’t have a doctor, but that is the step that would have to be taken in order to have that level of data, because right now we don’t have that.”

COVID-19 testing

On Friday night, the City of Port Arthur and Jefferson County Health Departments received confirmation of 13 additional residents in the 77627 zip code area who tested positive for coronavirus.

This brings the total to 179 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in this zip code since testing began.

The City of Nederland announced Friday the total positive COVID-19 test results increased to 144 with nine new positive cases. City officials did not update Nederland’s active case count, which stood at 81 on Thursday.

“We ask that people follow the health guidelines prescribed by the State of Texas, specifically hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask when out,” a city statement read.