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'The virus is everywhere': Victoria County reports 146 new cases; total hits 698

Victoria County reported 146 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.

The triple digit case count brings the county’s total to 698 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 24 newly recovered residents, according to a Victoria County news release.

At least 32 county residents with COVID-19 are in local hospitals receiving care.

“There are just too many people that don’t take this seriously,” said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s local health authority. “There are a lot of people that think that it’s not going to be a big deal, but tell that to the 32 people who are in the hospital now.”

State data shows an even grimmer picture for area hospital capacity: Across DeWitt, Calhoun, Victoria, Goliad, Lavaca and Jackson counties, 45 patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized. There are only 22 beds available in area intensive care units as of Monday evening, according to the state.

The number of patients requiring hospital care could continue to grow in the coming days and weeks, as it generally takes about four to five days for infected patients to start showing symptoms. Patients who become seriously ill usually don’t do so until about 10 to 12 days after they become infected.

McNeill said he wasn’t surprised by the record-breaking day because, “the virus is everywhere.”

David Gonzales, the director of the Victoria County Public Health Department, said he was hopeful the actions taken by the Texas governor Friday would help slow the rapid spread of the virus. Gov. Greg Abbott closed all bars statewide Friday and ordered restaurants to reduce their capacity to 50%.

“I have hope that next week will be better because of the governor’s orders,” Gonzales said. “That’s really where I have some optimism.”

But because infections generally aren’t diagnosed until days or even a week after the infection, Gonzales said there will likely be more days this week with high case counts.

“What we’re seeing today is a result of activities from a week or two ago, Gonzales said.

On Monday, a local order went into effect mandating businesses in the city of Victoria to require their customers and employees to wear masks where social distancing isn’t possible.

Victoria Mayor Rawley McCoy said he passed the order to prevent the growth of COVID-19 cases, but it only works if people take it seriously.

There is an abundance of resources saying masks slow the spread of the virus, and education is the only way to curb it, McCoy said.

“I just wish people could see that,” he said. “I don’t see that changing. We have to help people understand we have to do this.”

A majority of the cases are people who are 30 years old or younger, according to the county news release.

Young people tend to be more active because they are more likely to experience mild symptoms, McCoy said. Meanwhile, the “elderly are held hostage,” he said.

The Victoria mayor said he is limited in what he can regulate because Abbott’s orders are specific to how local policies can be made. But, as the governor changes his regulations, so will McCoy.

The dramatic increase in cases does not include any test results from the walk-up testing site that was in Victoria on Thursday and Friday. More than 1,200 samples were collected last week, and county officials are still waiting for those results.

County Judge Ben Zeller said he expected to see triple digit numbers when the walk-up testing results came in, but he didn’t expect this.

“I was surprised to see these numbers this early,” he said. “This is actually attributed to activities from two weeks ago.”

In the county, outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited unless Zeller signs off on the event. The same is done within the city with McCoy’s approval.

There is no order that requires a mask in businesses in the county, but Zeller said he’s “not taking anything off the table.”

As the entire state grapples with increasing infections, laboratories have been overwhelmed with tests to process, leading to a long delay for patients waiting to get their results.

If you have been tested for the coronavirus, you should isolate in your home until you receive the results of your test, health officials said last week. You should not leave your home while waiting for your test results.

Health officials urged the same basic steps Monday: Residents should stay in their homes if they are sick, wear facial coverings in public, wash their hands regularly and keep at least 6 feet of distance from people they don’t live with.

“It’s really hard to project how this is going to trend,” Zeller said. “These big numbers may be a more effective signal to the community to take things seriously.”

Refugio County

A Refugio police officer is recovering from COVID-19, the department’s chief said Monday.

The department learned June 16 that the officer had tested positive for COVID-19, Police Chief Enrique Diaz said.

He is the first employee at the department to catch the disease. Refugio has a total of 10 confirmed cases of the virus and five cases have been released from monitoring.

That officer caught the virus while on vacation and did not expose other department employees, Diaz said.

Since learning he had the virus, the infected officer has remained under isolation and has not required hospitalization.

The officer is scheduled to return to work Wednesday if he tests negative for the coronavirus.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Crossroads, Refugio’s police department has made a number of changes to protect its officers and employees, the police chief said.

Face coverings are required for all employees on the clock.

The station receives daily sanitation, and the public is not allowed entry there.

“We want everyone to stay healthy,” Diaz said. “If we don’t take care of ourselves, how are we going to take care of the public?”

Matagorda County

Twenty-three new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Matagorda County on Monday.

A total of 198 cases have been confirmed in the county, according to a news release from the Matagorda County Emergency Operation Center. Of those, 61 have recovered and five residents have died.

Eight patients are currently seeking treatment for COVID-19 in the Matagorda Regional Medical Center, the release said.

With the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Matagorda County, the Bay City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture is concerned for area businesses.

“The situation today with COVID-19 isn’t pretty, and it is getting worse,” according to another news release. “The number of people affected with the virus is growing every day.”

Along with the 23 cases reported Monday, five cases of the disease were reported in the county on Sunday.

The Bay City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture is partnering with the Matagorda County Economic Development Corp. and the Bay City Community Development Corp. in leading a discussion to assist people with a business continuity plan.

The groups are hosting a Facebook live event at 3 p.m. Thursday on the Matagorda County Economic Development Corp.’s Facebook page.

A business continuity plan is a document that outlines how an organization will continue to function during and after an emergency or event, the release said. It involves planning how your key services or products can continue.

Most business continuity plans focus on what will happen if the building or equipment is damaged. In other scenarios, the plan may assume people will be able to return to a building after a single event such as a storm.

In light of the current pandemic, businesses must plan for employees being unable to report to work for a period of time. During this time, many businesses, social organizations or schools have been required to close by order of the governor to help prevent spread of the disease.

For more information about the Zoom event, call 979-245-8333.

Lavaca County

Fifteen more confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Lavaca County on Monday.

Nine of the new patients live in the Hallettsville Zip code, three live in the Shiner Zip code, two live in the Yoakum Zip code and one lives in Moulton, according to a news release from Egon Barthels, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Walk-up COVID-19 testing provided by the Texas Military Department in partnership with the Texas Department of State Health Services will be provided in Yoakum, Shiner and Hallettsville this week.

Testing will be offered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Yoakum Community Center and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish Hall in Shiner and at the Hallettsville Knights of Columbus Hall in Hallettsville.

The COVID-19 testing will be provided at no cost and no appointment or screening is required to get tested.

State health officials were reporting a total of 126 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday morning, Barthels said.

That total includes 71 active cases, 54 recoveries and one death. Of the active cases, 38 patients have had their cases confirmed by the state health department and 33 have tested positive for the virus but are pending state investigation.

Cases reported by the Region 8 of the Texas Department of State Health Services, Lavaca’s public health authority, have had discrepancies since last Wednesday.

Based on previous totals reported by the state, there are more than 10 cases that have been removed from the county’s count without explanation.

Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said cases that were pending investigation and are no longer included have been moved to other jurisdictions.

Until recently, Region 8 was able to complete their case investigations within 24 hours, she said by email. The state recently started including cases that are pending investigation in counts because of the lag in investigation completion.

While this provides the public with a more accurate picture of how many people have tested positive for the virus, some patients have been found to live outside the county their pending cases was previously listed during the investigative process.

“Cases in the pending investigation category are attributed to the county/jurisdiction listed on the lab result,” Anton said. “During the investigation process, some cases are found to reside in a different jurisdiction and are reassigned to the correct county.”

Jackson County

State health officials reported one new case of COVID-19 in Jackson County on Monday, the first update since Friday evening.

In total, there are 40 Jackson County residents who have tested positive for the virus. Of those, 27 are confirmed cases, meaning state health officials have begun investigating, and 13 are pending investigation. A case pending investigation is one that has been confirmed by lab test, but that is still waiting for an investigator to review the case.

One county resident with COVID-19 has died. There are 22 patients who are considered recovered and 17 active cases.

Calhoun County

Local officials confirmed four new cases of COVID-19 in Calhoun County on Monday.

Monday’s update was the first update from county officials since Friday evening.

In total, there are 79 cases in the county, including 56 confirmed cases, 17 cases pending investigation, and six probable cases.

Fifty-three county residents are considered recovered from the disease, and three county residents with COVID-19 have died.


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Caterpillar officials announce another shutdown of Victoria location in July

Caterpillar officials will temporarily shut down their Victoria location in July months after a layoff and another previous shutdown.

Scheduled for July 6-17, the most recent shutdown in Victoria is part of a larger response by the company, said Lisa Miller, spokeswoman in the company’s Peoria, Ill., office.

“We are taking a variety of actions at our global facilities to reduce production due to weaker customer demand, potential supply constraints and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and related government actions,” Miller said in a written statement Monday. “These actions include a temporary shutdown at our Victoria, Texas, location.”

Miller declined to discuss the number of employees affected, whether they will be paid for time off during the shutdown and how many other company plants will receive similar shutdowns, among other questions.

According to the Victoria Economic Development Corp. website, Caterpillar employs more than 600 people in Victoria and is categorized as a “major employer.”

The shutdown in July is preceded by at least one other shutdown of the corporation’s Victoria location that lasted about two weeks in April.

That previous shutdown also was motivated by weaker customer demand, potential supply constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller said at the time.

In May, Caterpillar officials also laid off an unspecified number of employees.

While many large companies have contingency plans in place for difficult times such as these, the COVID-19 pandemic is a truly unusual event, said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp.

“I think we ... will see more of these measures as our manufacturers in the region attempt to stay whole and viable in making these work force adjustments,” Fowler said.

Since the pandemic arrived in the Crossroads, “literally thousands” of residents have been laid off or had their hours reduced, said Henry Guajardo, executive director of Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent.

That office will begin receiving in-person appointments on Monday.

Other major manufacturers in the Crossroads, including Invista and Formosa Plastics, have announced temporary shutdowns similar to Caterpillar’s.

“This is unprecedented,” Guajardo said.

Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, Fowler and Guajardo said they are optimistic about companies and workers in the Crossroads.

“We will come back and come back strong,” Fowler said. “We are just going to feel the pain for a little while.”

“We have to stay positive,” Guajardo said. “We are a resilient group of individuals. We will find ways to recover from this. To tell you the truth, we have no choice.”


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Fireworks stands offer sparkle of fun amid hard times

INEZ – Restrictions may have been reinstated for some Texas businesses, but Judy Garrison said the seven fireworks stands she owns in the Crossroads are busier than ever.

“People are ready to get out,” said Cindy Anderson, who manages one of Garrison’s stands, J&J Fireworks, on U.S. 87 at the entrance to Son Valley Ranch.

Fireworks stands opened June 24 and will remain open until midnight July 4. On Monday, Garrison said people, cooped up because of the pandemic and eager have already begun to stock up for neighborhood parties and backyard barbecues to celebrate the holiday with a bang.

Victoria County residents will have to keep the celebrations at home because Patriot Park, where the public is normally invited to ignite fireworks, will be closed on July 4 because of social distancing measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Fireworks are illegal in Victoria city limits and must be lit on private property in the county.

Richard Castillo, Victoria County Fire Marshal, said this year there aren’t too many extra concerns about fireworks safety because of dryness.

“What we’d like people to do is make sure they’ve got a good clear area, not a lot of high vegetation, make sure they’ve got a water source nearby and make sure the fireworks are age appropriate,” he said. “That is pretty much it for this one. Just be looking at your surroundings and social distancing.”

On the first day of the fireworks sales window, John Svoboda, a local contractor for San Antonio-based Alamo Fireworks, said some local stands wouldn’t be getting their shipments until the weekend.

Garrison, who places orders for fireworks at her stands, said orders for July fireworks are normally placed in December. This year, she said several obstacles, including a fireworks factory explosion, high demand for Lunar New Year and the onset of the pandemic, delayed this year’s order to April, when she had to scrounge for new dealers.

Anderson said she’s not upset about the changes because of the exciting new products on this year’s roster. Among her favorites is a little drone-shaped firework, gun-shaped sparklers and a pack of mortars called Patriot Pride.

Although excited to see her regular customers continue to shop for pyrotechnics in spite of difficult national and global circumstances, Anderson said it’s bittersweet to watch.

She said her daughter’s planned visit to Victoria for the upcoming holiday may get canceled. Anderson’s daughter lives in Kansas, which she worries will issue a travel advisory or ban state residents from visiting Texas.

“Luckily, other than that we’ve been unaffected,” she said. “I live out in the country, and for two months I didn’t leave my house. It’s nice to finally be doing something.”


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Victoria County commissioners appoint committee to oversee COVID-19 relief funding

Victoria County officials are beginning to use federal funding to help cover costs incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

Victoria County commissioners on Monday appointed a committee to oversee expenses from about $1.36 million the county was allocated through the Coronavirus Relief Fund program.

Commissioner Kevin Janak thanked Robin Knipling, the county’s grant administrator, and other county employees for working to find grants that bring money into the county.

“It really helps the strain on the general fund when you have stuff like this,” he said.

The funding comes through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The funding was allocated to local jurisdictions by the Texas governor’s office. The total Coronavirus Relief Fund program funding allocated to the state of Texas is about $11 billion, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

The county received 20% of its allotment already, Knipling said, and has to use it within specific funding guidelines before receiving the balance of the funds. County Judge Ben Zeller said a significant amount of that 20% has been used already, primarily to cover the cost of overtime for county employees working extra in response to the pandemic.

“I know starting February, March, especially then, we had a lot of emergency and public health personnel working overtime,” he said.

According to the Texas Division of Emergency Management, funds may only be used to cover costs that are necessary expenditures incurred because of the public health emergency with respect to the coronavirus; were not accounted for in the county’s budget as of March 27; and were incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020.

Seventy-five percent of the funds have to be used directly for medical public health expenses and payroll expenses, Knipling said. The rest must fall into other categories that involve response to COVID-19.

The court appointed a committee that will prioritize needs for the funding, determine whether the expenditures are eligible and report back to the court as things proceed. The committee will consist of Zeller, Knipling, Commissioner Clint Ives, someone from the county auditor’s office and a representative from the Victoria County Public Health Department or Victoria Emergency Operations Center.

The committee will provide updates to the court monthly.

Also on Monday, the court voted to extend the disaster declaration set in place by Zeller last week through July 31.

Zeller said he reissued a seven-day declaration of local disaster last week “not knowing what this spike, big spike in local cases where it would leave us, what we would need to do to respond to that.”

Though Mayor Rawley McCoy signed an order last week requiring all businesses in the city to mandate the use of facial coverings, Zeller said at the moment, he is not issuing any additional emergency orders for the county.

“I don’t know if there will need to be one at any point, but in order for that to be done, it appears that we would need a disaster declaration like this (in place),” he said.