Judge warns of local nurse shortage; Commissioner shares family’s COVID-19 deaths

Published 1:40 pm Thursday, July 23, 2020

A look at recent COVID-19 related data shows the lack of additional ICU beds.

The data was released by the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management and came from Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.

It showed as of Wednesday:

  • ICU beds

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Total ICU beds — 86

Beds in use COVID — 46

Beds in use total — 86

Beds available — 0

  • General hospital beds

Total beds — 775

Beds in use COVID — 106

Beds in use total — 557

Beds available — 218

Percentage of beds used for COVID — 19%

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said the message told by the data shows the health care system is taxed right now and it would behoove the general public to continue to social distance, avoid social gatherings, wear a mask and use good hygiene.

Judge Jeff Branick

He is hoping these steps prevent the area from having to put patients out in the hallway.

Having 218 hospital beds available can be misleading because there may not be enough personnel to take care of those people.

“Just because they’re available doesn’t mean they’re available for COVID,” Branick said. “There are not enough nurses. Some went to other areas where they can make more money. Some were furloughed when elective surgeries were first canceled and they have chosen not to come back to work, so there is a real nurse shortage.”

And there is truth to the news that some COVID-19 patients at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont have been transferred to a CHRISTUS hospital in Jasper for treatment.

A refrigerated truck parked outside the Jefferson County Morgue near Beaumont led to speculation as to why it is here. Branick explained having this type of truck here is not new. They were brought in after Hurricanes Rita, Ike and Harvey and are there at the request of the morgue any time there is a disaster declaration, which we have, he said.

The refrigerated trucks are likely to be used as funeral homes have seen the postponement of some funerals due to COVID-19 restrictions; those funerals will be held when gatherings are allowed in the future.

COVID-19 is real

Jefferson County Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Shane Sinegal has no problems telling the public about the deaths of two of his cousins and wants people to know COVID-19 is not a hoax.

Michael “Shane” Sinegal

“That’s one reason I tell the story, for people to take it serious. It’s not a hoax,” Sinegal said. “I understand people have rights and understand people have to work. And if you think of the front line workers and, as a 20-year retired teacher, I would be hesitant to go in the classroom at least until January.”

His cousin Rickey Whitley, a retired truck driver who lived on family farm land near the Brazos River, was feeling ill earlier this month with fever and chills. He went to the doctor on a Monday, learned he was positive for the novel coronavirus shortly after and died Thursday of the next week.

“It took my breath away when I heard he had passed,” Sinegal said.

Whitley, 64, had been on a ventilator as the disease progressed.

Another cousin, Lawrence Riley, was the first person in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, to die from COVID-19, Sinegal said. Oprah Winfrey interviewed Riley’s family after he died three days after his diagnosis.

Sinegal said he and fellow commissioners were talking about COVID-19 and he noted things would get worse before they got better, adding politics should be taken out of the issue.

“If I am sick I am responsible to make sure not to pass that sickness on to you,” he said, adding as a child he was taught to cover his mouth or turn his head if he needed to cough.

He likens the controversy about wearing a mask to the debate on using seat belts years ago.

And as a commissioner he has seen only one objection to the mask issue at the courthouse.

“One person tried to get in without a mask,” he said. “He missed his daughter’s wedding because he was to stubborn to wear a mask, and we had some available. His daughter was angry.”

The COVID-19 data includes information from Port Arthur and Beaumont public health departments and covers Jefferson County.

As of Wednesday there were:

  • 3,397 active cases
  • 1,850 recovered cases (estimated)
  • 2 deaths on Wednesday
  • 49 total deaths
  • 0.9% death rate
  • 17.87 cases per 1,000 persons
  • 5,247 cumulative positive cases