• 86°

Port Arthur, Mid County experiencing surge in COVID; “variants” worry health department

Following the announcement of a COVID-19 related death in Port Neches, local health department officials said a current uptick in cases is likely due to variants of the virus.

The man, between 75 and 80 years old, had underlying health issues and was the 14th person from Port Neches to die from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are spiraling upward unfortunately,” said Health Director Judith Smith. “It’s mostly because of the variants. When you have viruses out there, you can expect you’ll have mutations. Because we’re a little slow for vaccination rates for our county and no longer have mask mandates, the vaccinated and unvaccinated are out and about and we’re going to see an increase.”

Since the first local case was reported in March 2020, Jefferson County has had an estimated 21,068 confirmed cases, according to data from Texas Health and Human Services. There are approximately 39.17 percent county residents ages 12 and up that have been fully vaccinated.

From June 30 to July 14, the Port Arthur Health Department — which serves Port Arthur, Groves, Port Neches and Nederland — has diagnosed 52 new cases.

Smith said she had gone to monthly reporting as cases started to drop, but with the current uprising, they will be reporting daily again to keep the public apprised on the number of local cases.

“We were doing really good for a season and not seeing a lot of cases,” she said. “Most people may have mild symptoms and think it’s allergies or sinus issues, when they may actually have COVID.”

Smith encouraged anyone experiencing similar symptoms to get tested. Mid and South County residents can do so at the Texas Artist’s Museum located at 3501 Cultural Center Drive in Port Arthur.

That will also be the location of a town hall meeting Thursday (July 29) at 6 p.m.

Health Department officials will be on hand to answer questions regarding COVID vaccinations.

The department operates a Strike Team that delivers vaccines to bed-bound individuals. To make an appointment with the Strike Team, call (409) 983-8832.