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How local cities went from reporting few virus cases to “grim” numbers

A health department that was once reporting individual cases is now reporting on entire families.

“Every Sunday at church, I stand up and I speak to parents who I know (have) children that have not been vaccinated,” Health Director Judith Smith said Thursday while speaking to the Port Arthur Rotary Club. “And I’m telling them, we have a group of children who are under the age of 12 who cannot receive vaccinations. And so I’m reporting people who are in a household now. Whole households are positive.”

Smith spoke about the progression of the virus and how cases went from almost managed to explosive.

“It seems like the week of July 17, all hell broke lose,” she said. “In late June I was reporting about 10-15 positive cases a week — not a day but a week. Mid-July… it was 111 cases just in one day, mostly in young adults. The reports I did last week were a little over 200.”

And Thursday alone, the department reported 107 new cases — 68 in Port Arthur, 10 in Groves, 10 in Nederland and 19 in Port Neches. Of those, 29 were younger than 20 years of age and 15 of the 29 were younger than 10.

The department also has reported 10 deaths this week after announcing nine last Friday alone.

“One of the things we talk about now is, ‘How did we get here when we were doing so well?’”

Judith Smith, the director of the Port Arthur Health Department, speaks to the Port Arthur Rotary Club. (Courtesy Rotary Club of Port Arthur)

Early 2021: A hopeful time

In January, the health department was able to join with other nearby county and city officials to begin administering the Moderna vaccine to health professionals, first responders and those with underlying health conditions.

Those eligible were asked to register online and bring their registration confirmation to the vaccine clinic, which at the time was set up at the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur.

“We felt like other than the social distancing, the mask wearing, the washing and sanitizing of hands — that was all we had,” Smith said. “So it really felt good in January when we got that first Moderna vaccine.”

However, the registration process, Smith said, was difficult for many, especially those who were not computer literate or without internet access.

After that, the clinic began to see anyone, whether they had registered or not.

Through April, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 shots were given per day.

With numbers like that, how is more than 50 percent of Jefferson County residents still unvaccinated?

“Even though we were giving so many vaccines, all of them were not from Port Arthur… not from Jefferson County,” Smith said. “Our vaccine hub eventually became the easiest hub to get into. Everyone else was really strict on registration. And even though we did have a registration system set up, we eventually just said if you registered…come in and we’ll take care of you.”

She said eventually that was eliminated too. No registration was needed to receive a vaccine.

Health Director and Rotary President Art Thomas. (Courtesy Rotary of Lawanda Finney)

September 2021: A desperate time

With every passing day, numbers continue to rise — and not just in Jefferson County.

Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel, whose county is part of the four sharing the regional monoclonal antibody infusion center, reported 798 new cases and 17 deaths this week.

“This is a very grim report and our worst yet,” he said in a written statement. “Our local hospitals continue to report to us that 93-95 percent of the people they see in their emergency departments for COVID-19 are unvaccinated and that nearly 100 percent of those with COVID-19 who have been vaccinated are surviving and their symptoms are less severe.”

As of Thursday morning, 1,585 doses of the infusion treatment had been administered since its opening Aug. 23.

The center — which serves Jefferson, Hardin, Orange and Jasper counties — is staffed by the state using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“When I look at the numbers of the 9-year-olds and the 3-year-olds who cannot get the vaccinations; it breaks my heart,” Smith said.

For infusion treatments

The monoclonal antibody treatment center is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday. COVID-positive patients can get a referral from their primary care physician or call the hotline number at (409) 550-2536. The center is located at 5550 Eastex Freeway near Target in Beaumont.

For free COVID-19 testing

Commissioners recently approved free COVID-19 testing for the following dates and locations:

Groves: Sept. 6 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., 6150 39th St.

Hamshire: Sept. 6 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Hamshire Community Center

Port Arthur: Sept. 7 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Bob Bower’s Civic Center

Beaumont: Sept. 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 700 Crockett St.

Labelle: Sept. 9 from 7 a.m. to noon, 22044 Burrell Wingate Rd.

Port Neches: Sept. 9 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., 1900 Magnolia Ave.