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Judge: There is ‘considerable concern’ over increasing virus rates

On the day the City of Beaumont confirmed its first case of the COVID variant Delta, County Judge Jeff Branick stood on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse pleading with residents to get vaccinated, wear masks and social distance.

“As we stand now with considerable concern over what these increasing infection rates are going to do to our healthcare system, as well as to our work places, and concern that if we go above 15 percent hospitalizations … some of the restrictions on businesses under the governor’s orders will return and be put into effect,” Branick said to a crowd of media members.

As of Wednesday, Jefferson County was at 10 percent COVID hospitalizations, according to information provided by Branick’s office. Once a county reaches 15 percent for seven consecutive days, the county judge is allowed to impose certain mandates.

Unlike last year, the most-recent executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott does not allow for the closing of businesses. However, it does give county judges the authority to limit the operation of businesses and establishments as long as they are not reduced below a 50 percent capacity. No operating limits are to be set on religious services, and no penalties can be given to those who do not wear face coverings. That being said, the order does allow private businesses to utilize law enforcement for the enforcement of trespassing laws and to remove violators should they refuse to obey with mask mandates.

However, the uptick in cases is still forcing some businesses to cease operations.

On Thursday, Billy Joe’s Bar B Que in Port Neches announced it would be temporarily closing because some of the employees contracted the virus.

“We ask that you continue to pray for a speedy recovery for all involved and an end to this virus,” the post said.

Earlier this week, the Mid-County tax office was forced to close for two days for the same reason.

Schools and government entities are, by executive order, not allowed to require masks at this time.

Jefferson County reported 330 new cases between Monday and Wednesday — 240 in Beaumont and 90 in Mid and South County.

“Things have been escalating very, very quickly and unvaccinated people are bearing the brunt,” said Chris Van Deusen, director of media relations for Texas Health and Human Services. “Things were headed in the right direction for so long and people thought, ‘I’ll get vaccinated at some point.’ Now is that time. This is a serious situation we’re in.”

Jefferson County currently has 39.6 percent of people ages 12 and older fully vaccinated, state data shows.

Mary Poole, spokesperson for Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas joined Branick Thursday morning and asked residents to continue preventative measures.

Mary Poole with Baptist Health System joined County Judge Jeff Branick Thursday in discussing an uptick in COVID cases. (Monique Batson/The News)

“The hospitals here are operational and we’re here to serve our communities — that includes all three hospitals in Southeast Texas,” Poole said. “But as a team, we’re united in asking you to please get vaccinated.”

Angie Hebert, vice president of communications for the Medical Center of Southeast Texas echoed those symptoms.

She said the hospital is closely monitoring the situation but has not changed protocols except that all visitors must wear a mask.

“We encourage everyone to social distance and wear masks in densely populated areas and consider vaccinations if medically appropriate,” she said.

Van Deusen with the state department said vaccinated individuals that test positive for the virus see few if any symptoms.