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“There are no beds, there are no ventilators” — Local officials describe COVID surge severity

COVID impacts on Jefferson County have been “traumatic,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said Wednesday just hours after the Port Arthur Health Department announced five COVID-related deaths and 23 new cases.

Four of the five deaths were in Port Arthur and one was in Groves. Two were 45-49, one was 70-74, one was 75-79 and one 80-84.

And Wednesday, Beaumont diagnosed 308 new cases.

“I’m going to tell you right now, there are no beds in our hospitals,” Branick said. “There’s no ventilators in our hospitals. We are inundated with patients at our local hospitals — many of which are COVID patients who are…sitting on gurneys for many, many hours. Sometimes 36-48 hours in the emergency room because there are no beds available.”

The judge, who spoke Wednesday at a Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce event, said some non-COVID patients in need of hospitalization have been sent as far as Maryland and Oklahoma City to receive treatment.

The local leader said other impacts from the virus surge includes the inability to hold jury trials, which has doubled the number of inmates at the Jefferson County Jail from approximately 600 in March 2020 to 1,100 currently, while there are 30 less correctional officers creating a significant increase in overtime. The jail contract for medical treatment has been “a couple million dollars above where it normally was.”

In order to help combat the virus prior to a patient needing hospitalization, a Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion center opened in Beaumont Monday. The joint operation between Jefferson, Orange, Hardin and Jasper counties increased the capability for infusions from approximately 30 per day to 150. As of Tuesday morning, more than 300 people had been treated.

Texas Health and Human Services is working with government entities across the state to launch infusion centers in a multitude of regions.

The center is staffed by the state.

Click here to learn how to make an appointment.

“One of the sayings that we have in our office is we are operating on the new abnormal,” said Shanna Burke, executive director for the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission. “Nothing seems normal anymore.”

Burke said the Commission has been working with Jefferson County residents that need assistance with past due rent and utilities.

The program is based on income eligibility; households must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of four, she said, that cap would be about $52,000.

Landlords are also available to apply even if they’ve sued for eviction.

“I realize there are individuals who have strong opinions about vaccinations and I don’t ask you give up those strongly-held beliefs,” Branick said after saying he and his wife are vaccinated. “But I am asking as we move through this that you review the facts related to the accuracy of the vaccinations and make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you.”

The Pfizer vaccine has been granted FDA approval, and as of Wednesday afternoon, Moderna had completed its request for the same.

Branick said the same grant request used to staff the infusion center was also used to bring in additional staff for local hospitals.

Nurses arrived late last week.

“Our medical personnel at area medical facilities are worn out,” Branick said. “They’ve been working non-stop and are in need of a break.”