Will end of holiday week signal start of virus surge? Local officials have concerns.

Published 12:20 am Friday, March 19, 2021

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For most local families, the last week has been about Spring Break. But for officials, it’s more about what’s soon to come.

“I am praying and hoping there wasn’t much movement during Spring Break or that people moved around unprotected,” said Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie. “The virus is still upon us. With respectful disregard with Gov. Gregg Abbott’s decision to open the state, I feel that was purely for economic reasons and not one that would support mortality.”

On Thursday, eight days after the state reopened to full capacity without a mask mandate, the Port Arthur Health Department reported the death of a Groves man. The man between 55-60 was said to have underlying health conditions.

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Jefferson County has had 370 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Texas Health and Human Services. Those stem from a reported 18,723 confirmed cases — 800 of which are still active and more than 17,500 recovered.

Bartie considers himself a survivor, still suffering from symptoms following his Dec. 17 diagnosis.

“My respiratory system is not at 100 percent, and my cardiac system is in question,” the mayor said. “I don’t mind talking about it because I want people to know this thing is real.”

Bartie received his first Moderna vaccine March 5 at Port Arthur’s Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center, and will return April for his final vaccination.

Last week, more than 5,000 people were vaccinated at the local hub, said Port Arthur Health Department Director Judith Smith.

Since opening in February, Smith said, an estimated 13,000 individuals have been vaccinated.

Those 65 and older can go without registering, while those younger than 65 should register online before showing up.

“We do not refuse anyone service no matter where they’re from,” she added.

This week, Smith said, activity at the hub has been slower than usual, mostly due to Spring Break. However, an increase in activity is projected next week.

“Unfortunately that has been the trend after different holidays,” Smith said.

Another growing trend, Bartie said, has been an uptick in cases following holidays.

“I hate to say it, but we are probably looking at another surge,” he said. “We already have the proof. It happened last year when the government opened the state. We have to do all that’s necessary and all that we possibly can to protect ourselves.”

The Port Arthur Health Department reported its first positive coronavirus case March 26, 2020. The Port Arthur man was between 40-50 years old. Two more cases were announced the following day.

Those wishing to register for vaccination can do so on the city’s website at portarthurtx.gov, where a list of testing facilities also is available.

The Civic Center is located at 3401 Cultural Center Drive.