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New one-day record climbs to 21

For the second day in a row, Victoria County has set a new record for the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in a single day.

Twenty-one cases of COVID-19 were reported in Victoria County on Thursday, surpassing Wednesday’s case count of 14. Thursday’s surge puts the county’s case count at 248 with 163 recovered. Eight people have died.

“I’m very concerned because the number of cases continues to grow and the number of hospitalizations in Texas continues to rise,” said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s public health authority. “The higher the active case count goes, the more opportunities there are for the virus to spread.”

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the state, city and county officials in some of Texas’s densest regions have figured out a way to impose facial covering requirements while complying with Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders.

Victoria Mayor Rawley McCoy said he is evaluating the new orders that have cropped up, including one in Bexar County that Abbott’s press office told the Texas Tribune is “not inconsistent with the governor’s executive order.”

Abbott banned local governments from punishing people who don’t wear masks in public with fines or criminal penalties in an executive order issued June 3.

That ban has not changed; rather officials realized they could hold businesses responsible for requiring customers and staff to wear facial coverings.

Instead of people without masks facing fines or criminal penalties, fines will be imposed on businesses that do not comply.

The county judges in Bexar and Hidalgo were the first to sign such orders.

Monday through the end of June, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s order will mandate businesses require customers and staff to wear facial coverings when 6-foot separation is not feasible. Businesses found out of compliance can face fines up to $1,000.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed a similar order Wednesday that went into effect Thursday and will expire Aug. 15.

County Judge Ben Zeller could not be reached for comment Thursday, but McCoy said he has been speaking with several officials and examining these orders to see whether a local version would be in the best interest of Victoria residents.

“I always look into everything,” McCoy said. “But I want to make sure I understand the situation and where the health authorities suspect the weaknesses to be and see if what is happening in Bexar County and some of the larger cities is applicable to us.”

During a news conference last Friday, McCoy and Zeller both said their hands were tied from issuing more local orders that would not be trumped by Abbott’s statewide orders.

But these new orders illustrate that there are ways to issue additional restrictions at a local level that are in line with Abbott’s.

Still, there is a lot to consider, McCoy said.

“What happens in a scenario where a belligerent customer comes in and starts a scene because they want to proclaim their right not to wear a mask?” he said. “We’ve got to understand what happens then. Are there other laws that are broken not only to do it, but what is the practical implementation to make it stick?”

Jeff Lyon, president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said the orders could put businesses in difficult positions.

“I feel like if a business feels compelled to do that, then that is their choice,” he said. “I’d like to see how it is going to shake out in Bexar County. It is going to be interesting to see how it is enforced and some comments or feedback they get from the businesses if they are fined.”

During the course of several news briefings, McCoy has highlighted the public’s personal responsibility to wear masks and practice social distancing.

People relaxed as the number of COVID-19 cases went down, he said.

“When you see those numbers go down like they did, it is human nature and I think we’re all guilty of it,” he said. “We always said early on don’t expect this thing to go away and we have to watch it and be willing to take appropriate action.”

The city of Victoria and Victoria County will host a walk-up COVID-19 testing site in collaboration with the Department of State Health Services and Texas Military Department June 25 and 26 at the Victoria Community Center.

No appointment, doctor’s order or prescription will be required for testing, which will be provided at no cost.

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking locally and surging statewide, the intersection of public safety and individual rights is critical to consider, McCoy said.

“Our individual rights are precious ... what separates us from other countries and societies is our freedom,” he said. “I’ve exercised my rights throughout my life, but there comes a time when you have to analyze and ask, is my individual right valid when the exercise of my right puts someone else’s health at peril?

“I mean, I don’t see people out complaining that they have to wear a seat belt.”

Lavaca County

Lavaca County officials reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Two cases were confirmed in Hallettsville, two in Moulton, one in Shiner and one in Yoakum. These new cases bring the county’s total case count to 28.

Of those patients, 19 have recovered and one has died, according to a Lavaca County officials.

The Texas Military Department tested 115 people for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing site in Moulton on Tuesday, said Egon Barthels, Lavaca County’s emergency management coordinator.

Calhoun County

Calhoun County officials reported one new COVID-19 case on Thursday.

In total, 47 residents have tested positive for the virus.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has indicated that there are also five additional “probable” cases in the county, but these have not been confirmed yet through laboratory testing.

DSHS also estimates that about 45 people with COVID-19 in the county have recovered, although that number is an estimate and could change.

Three people in Calhoun County with COVID-19 have died.

Matagorda County

Two new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Matagorda County on Thursday.

The new cases brings the county’s total to 97. Of those, 58 have recovered and five residents have died.

The new patients are a woman between the ages of 30 and 40 and a man between the ages of 20 and 30, according to the Matagorda Regional Medical Center.

Both patients are recovering at home.

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Victoria residents celebrate black-owned businesses

A global movement made its way to Victoria after black squares dominated social media feeds for anyone with a smartphone.

#BlackOutTuesday took over social media June 9, but the movement has proven to be more than a single-day fad. In response to the hashtag, originally started by professionals in the music industry to pause work and memorialize George Floyd, many people have begun to show their support in a different way – by promoting the businesses and work of African Americans in communities across the country.

The movement made its way to Victoria when several residents began to circulate lists of the city’s black-owned businesses.

“We’ve been oppressed for more than 400 years; we need that recognition,” said Londyn Bellard, a 2015 Victoria West High School graduate who attends UT San Antonio and dreams of owning her own grocery store.

Bellard, who made one of the lists, said she wanted to help spread the movement to her hometown because it is not immune to racism that has led to police killings of black people in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta and other larger U.S. cities.

Marc Lewis, who owns Unique Trends Clothing & Accessories at 2310 N. Navarro St., said he didn’t know of many black-owned businesses in Victoria but the trend might inspire more to open.

“I’m hoping that it’ll motivate more black people to take a step to open up,” he said. “A lot of people have dreams, but sometimes, they’re scared to make them happen.”

Because she is half Latina and half black, Bellard said, she represents two cultural backgrounds. However, she said it’s especially important to uplift the black community because of bias against people with dark skin.

“I’ve caught myself saying that I wanted to be white because it would be so much easier,” she said. “You can get a loan, you can get a house.”

Bellard says she now embraces her dark skin and wants other people to see it. She said she and her family do their own part to support local black-owned businesses; her grandmother and boyfriend get their hair done at Styles by Pam, and her mom is longtime friends with Lola Smith, of Lola’s Fitness Studio.

London Spears, who owns a skin care line and is a licensed massage therapist, said she hoped the trend informed people that black-owned businesses don’t just make products or provide services catering to black people.

“It’s not about us trying to separate ourselves but most successful businesses that have been around (for a while) aren’t owned by a POC (person of color),” she said. “We just want to bring awareness to potential customers and clientele that our businesses are definitely not ‘low budget’ or a scam.”

Tamera Steele, who owns Sweet T’s Catering and Cakes, said that besides promotion of her own business, she liked the trend because it uplifted all black business owners, who often experience racism when trying to establish themselves.

Steele said her own experiences as a black business owner reinforced the need for everyone to support black-owned businesses.

“I don’t have that accent where people can say, ‘Oh, she’s black,’” Steele said, but sometimes, when she walks into an in-person meeting, “You get that look. They’re surprised to see your color.”

Steele said that during conversations about how to fix racism and the systematic problems that lead to police brutality she often hears individuals question their ability to make change.

People can talk all day long,” she said, but added that supporting black-owned businesses financially is a good place to start.

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Sheriff's officials begin homicide investigation

Victoria County sheriff’s officials are investigating the death of a man who was found at the scene of a reported Inez shooting Wednesday night.

About 9 p.m., deputies were called to Rodeo Road where a man was found dead, said Chief Deputy Roy Boyd.

“As with all deaths under suspicious circumstances, the VCSO is handling the investigation as a homicide investigation,” Boyd said in a written statement.

Although no arrests had been made Thursday, Boyd said sheriff’s officials do not think there is any continuing threat to the public.

Boyd said he could not release the man’s name or other details about the incident.

“We hope to have more information for public release in the near future,” Boyd said.

Justice of the Peace Robert Whitaker said he has requested an autopsy through the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office.

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Victoria County judge orders dog euthanized after biting Bloomington girl's face

A Victoria County judge signed a euthanization order Thursday for a Doberman that bit a girl’s face despite pleas from the owner and the girl herself.

That bite left two deep gashes on both sides of the girl’s mouth. The wounds required about 20 stitches to seal. The girl’s name was not released.

“That’s going to be a scar that you are going to live with for the rest of your life ... It will never go away,” said Justice of the Peace Mary Ann Rivera, adding, “That’s a scar on your face that didn’t need to be there.”

On June 9, the girl was picking fleas off the Doberman pinscher, a 3-year-old named Axel, when the dog suddenly and unexpectedly bit her face, Victoria County animal control officers testified.

Axel’s owner, Juan Diego Segura, 22, of Bloomington, said he was present in the room at the time and was unsure why his dog bit the 17-year-old girl, who is his girlfriend.

Segura, his girlfriend and her mother said Axel had never before acted aggressively despite often being around other people and dogs.

About eight months ago, a friend gave Axel to Segura, and since then he said he had spent almost every available moment with the dog.

Segura said, he had only left Axel chained outside when no one was home.

“He always sleeps with us,” Segura said, adding, “When I’m not at work, he is with us.”

After learning of the bite, Victoria Animal Control officers investigated the incident and determined the girl had suffered serious bodily injury from the bite.

And despite Segura’s testimony that Axel was friendly, animal control officers said the dog should be euthanized because of the severity of the bite.

In Texas, serious bodily injury is a legal term defined in the context of dog bites as “an injury characterized by severe bite wounds or severe ripping and tearing of muscle that would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek treatment from a medical professional and would require hospitalization without regard to whether the person actually sought medical treatment.”

According to Texas law, a judge may order a dog euthanized if it inflicts serious bodily injury on a person.

“The injury speaks for itself,” one animal control officer testified.

In the end, Rivera agreed with the officers’ findings and ruled the bite had inflicted serious bodily injury on Segura’s girlfriend and as a result should be euthanized.

After the ruling, a tearful Segura asked to see his dog one last time before it was killed.

Animal control officers agreed.

“Mr. Segura, big lesson learned (is) no matter what type of dog, big or small, it is not a human,” Rivera said after handing down her order. “It does not know the difference between right and wrong.”