• 50°

Judge Branick: Not considering stricter COVID-19 protocol “right now” despite rising numbers

BEAUMONT — Despite an apparent second wave of coronavirus cases locally, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said Wednesday he is not considering implementing stricter coronavirus prevention measures citizens faced earlier in the pandemic.

“I’m not considering it right now for Jefferson County,” Branick said. “We are on the brink of distribution of a vaccine and potentially some therapeutics. I know it may be six months before they have 100 million doses out, but I don’t know how many people are going to be happy about taking it or willing to take it.”

Branick, along with other judges, mayors and health officials from seven Southeast Texas counties, spoke during a news conference at the steps of the old courthouse entrance.

Also on Wednesday, the City of Port Arthur Health Department reported a COVID-19 related death for a resident of Groves. Health officials said the victim was a White female between 75 and 80 years old — the city’s fifth COVID-19 related death since the beginning of the pandemic.

Protection during holidays

The local leaders and health officials stressed the importance of limiting travel as well as gatherings in homes as the holiday season approaches. Thanksgiving is Thursday/Nov. 26.

“We know how the virus transmits,” Beaumont Health Department Director Sherry Ulmer said. “It transmits when people are together within 6 feet. So, we want to be sure that we are being very, very careful. Typically, we have our Thanksgiving dinners inside. So, we know the virus usually circulates better inside than it does outside.”

Beaumont recorded 355 new positive cases of coronavirus, Ulmer said.

“If you are going to travel during the holidays, we want to make sure you understand that it increases your chances of developing COVID,” Port Arthur Health Department Director Judith Smith said. “You’ll want to check travel restrictions before you go. Make sure you get your flu shot because we’re right in the middle of flu season. Always wear a mask when you are in public settings and make sure you wash your hands as often as possible and use hand sanitizers. Those basic pharmaceutical measures we’ve talked about since the beginning of the pandemic will work if we follow those guidelines.”

Port Arthur Health Department data

Since the PAHD reported the first COVID-19 case on March 26, 1,616 positive cases have been reported for Port Arthur, 819 for Nederland, 487 for Port Neches and 471 for Groves, Smith said.

The numbers for Tuesday were not promising; Nederland recorded 54 new cases, Port Arthur and Port Neches 21 each and Groves 15. The total of 111 cases set a single-day record for the PAHD region, beating the past mark of 79 set in July.

“Over the last 10 days, we’ve literally seen our numbers rise,” Smith said. “Many of these individuals have mild to moderate symptoms, but some of them are hospitalized, and unfortunately, we are still reporting deaths. We’re currently following about 415 active cases at this time.”

The PAHD has reported 42 COVID-19 related deaths for Port Arthur, five for Port Neches, 13 for Nederland and five for Groves.

“We just want the community to know, not only when you’re out and about and doing the things we’ve asked you not to do, it not only puts you at risk but it puts those you love at risk,” Smith said.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie characterized the pandemic as “the new normal,” a phrase he often recited during his own news conferences during the spring and summer, and asked citizens to continue taking precautions.

“Please, please, plead, beg,” Bartie said. “Listen to the scientists, listen to the professionals on this. We see the numbers increasing. We know there is a surge. … We’ve made it these past 8 to 10 months. We can do it again. Hopefully, it’ll be shorter than a year. Even if it’s longer than a year, let’s put our minds to doing it the right way so we can sustain life. That’s all we can ask.”

Smith also asked individuals to receive their flu shots. A drive-thru flu clinic will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Port Arthur Public Library.

Finishing the race

Jefferson County Health Authority Dr. Ezea Ede asked everyone to “finish the race” and not let up on taking precautions.

“It’s not hard; it’s simple,” Ede said. “We have to wear that mask. We have to practice social distancing. We wash our hands. We are respective to order. Together, I think we can do this.”

Said Jasper County Judge Mark Allen: “Just like the Spanish Flu in 1918, we’re going to see another surge, and we’re in it. How do we handle it? … We are our brother’s keeper, and remember that. It’s not just about ourselves, but protecting those around us.”

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.

email author More by I.C.