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'It could be you': Victoria woman, 37, battles severe case of COVID-19

Marisol Gonzalez knows exactly how to describe her battle with COVID-19.

“I stared death in the eyes,” said the 37-year-old Victoria woman who was discharged from the intensive care unit at DeTar Hospital Navarro on Wednesday.

Four days earlier, on June 20, she said the disease caused by the coronavirus brought her to the brink of death.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said. “On Friday night, my fever got so high, and it was so hard to breathe. I had been sick for so many days, my body was starting to give out.”

On Sunday, as 17 new COVID-19 cases were announced in Victoria County, bringing the total count to 552, Gonzalez said she wants Victorians to understand the disease is real, it isn’t the flu, and it can change the lives of any family.

“I used to watch it on TV – I never in a million years thought I would be in the ICU fighting for my life,” she said.

Gonzalez says she’s in good health and wants Victorians to know that anyone is vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19.

“I used to just picture just a bunch of old people who go to the hospital with this, but it’s not,” she said. “It could be you.”

Gonzales said her treatments involved a cup full of different medications each day and steroid shots to her stomach. Although she wasn’t put on a ventilator, Gonzalez said she received oxygen to help her breathe.

Her husband, Jose Gonzalez, and son, Jeremiah Andrew Gonzalez, didn’t get tested for COVID-19, but she believes they had it because they exhibited mild symptoms, including mild fever and coughing.

Gonzalez said the disease also caused financial stress on her family because both she and her husband operate a small printing business, SOLart Designs.

As Gonzalez awaits her hospital bill, she and her family are on the way to recovery, both health-wise and financially. She said she’s grateful for the support family and friends provided through this difficult time.

Sunday, the county also announced 16 newly recovered individuals, bringing that total to 261 recovered cases.

County health department officials noted that the daily numbers are subject to change as it completes its epidemiological investigations.

“Please help us to combat COVID-19 by wearing a mask or facial covering, practicing social distancing and good hygiene, and staying home if you are sick,” read a Sunday news release from the Victoria County Health Department.

In addition to Victoria County, Wharton County also reported new cases Sunday. Many Crossroads counties have stopped sharing updates on the weekends.

Wharton County

The total number of Wharton County residents who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 rose to 185 Sunday as county officials reported 22 new confirmed cases.

The county also announced 12 new recoveries from the disease caused by coronavirus, bringing the total number of residents who’ve recovered to 72. One person has died of the disease.

The Wharton County cities with the largest numbers of people who’ve tested positive for the disease are El Campo, which has 83 cases; Wharton, which has 61 cases; and East Bernard, which has 20 cases.

Small town cinemas struggle to stay afloat as studios delay releases

PORT LAVACA – The screens weren’t running at Twin Dolphins Theater on Thursday evening, but the distinctly nostalgic smell of buttered popcorn still filled the air.

Residents lined up on the side of the building in their vehicles to purchase the concessions they have missed since their town’s only theater shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Port Lavaca resident Carley Stringo said her children were thrilled when she arrived home with “real movie theater popcorn” as a surprise for their at-home movie night.

“I’ve been going there since I was a kid and we like to take our children there all the time,” she said. “A lot of our students and kids in town also work there and my husband used to work there, so this is a good way to support them.”

Twin Dolphins owners Nancy and Harold Walravens said they decided to start selling concessions again from 6 to 8 p.m. last Thursday through Sunday, in an effort to keep paying their employees.

The couple was approved for the federally-funded Payroll Protection Program, which allowed them to keep paying staff. But those government funds have since dried up and they resorted to paying their workers on their own.

“What we’re doing right now is trying to help us fund keeping these employees on the payroll,” Harold Walravens said. “Because it is not something that we can continue to do personally.”

If the curbside concessions are successful, Nancy Walravens said they hope to continue them.

Twin Dolphins has never been a big moneymaker, but rather a cherished part of the community that is home to countless memories.

The couple bought the cinema in 1996 from Harold Walravens’ parents, who had owned it since 1975.

When shutdowns started in March, Harold Walravens said they did not expect to keep the theater closed for so long.

The theater industry has been around for more than a century, but never experienced a financial strain quite like the coronavirus pandemic.

Theaters in Texas were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity on May 1 under the order of Gov. Greg Abbott and have since been allowed to increase capacity to 50%.

But many theaters, including Twin Dolphins, have chosen to remain closed until studios release new films.

Walravens said he and his wife plan to reopen in July for new releases, when nationwide chains AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Cineworld’s Regal Cinemas are scheduled to reopen theaters.

But the couple has not set a date because studios keep pushing back release dates as cases of COVID-19 spike in several states, including Texas.

“I don’t know if it is going to come back soon,” Walravens said. “I think they are following what all of us are seeing nationwide. The reopening is not going quite as well as everyone hoped.”

Warner Bros., for instance, was scheduled to release Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” on July 17, but delayed the release until July 31 and most recently, Aug. 12.

Walt Disney Co.’s “Mulan” was slated for release on July 24, though that date, too, did not stick. The film won’t premiere until Aug. 21.

Studios will continue to push back releases until they know seats will be filled nationwide, said Richard Orsak, owner of Cole Theatre in Hallettsville.

“With our spike in Texas, I don’t know what they’re going to do.” he said.

Cole Theatre and The Grand Theater in Yoakum are the only locally-owned theaters in the region that have reopened since March.

Ganado Cinema in Ganado remained closed as of Monday.

Orsak said he decided to reopen sporadically during the weekends, starting June 12, for a few feature showings of old movies that studios are either offering in packages or allowing theaters to pick from catalogs.

The theater’s concessions are also up and running, he said.

“We were playing a family-type movie and more of an adult-type movie for the evening shows,” Orsak said. “That is how we’ve tried to set it up.”

Sanitization has increased and customers are practicing social distancing in the theater, he said. The state health department has issued guidance for theaters, including recommending viewers sit two seats apart from people who are not members of their household.

The Grand Theatre also reopened in early June to show previously released movies. But Tammy Steinmann, the owner, decided to halt showings again on Sunday.

“I think it is finally hitting home to where more people here have the virus, like people we know here in town,” she said. “It was a hard decision. I really don’t want to close down, but it is the right thing to do.”

Steinmann said trying to please everyone with old films has been difficult. But more importantly, she wants to ensure the safety of her customers and staff.

“This has been a dream of mine, so to have to shut it down and reopen and shut it down again definitely hurts,” she said.”It is a downfall for everybody in the industry, dwindling down to the smallest person in the movie business ... I just keep praying everyone is going to be OK.”

As theater owners wait for new releases, concern about how the pandemic will effect the industry long term is festering.

Since March, some studios have experienced success with at-home premieres.

“It seems like online is going to be the new source of income, and not necessarily the theaters,” Harold Walravens said.

This hurdle adds to challenges theater owners have been navigating for years, including the rise of streaming platforms and narrowing electronic sell-through and DVD release windows that make going to see a movie harder to sell.

Data from the National Association of Theater Owners, for instance, shows that the window of time before a movie can be released on demand, Blu-ray or DVD after being pulled from the theaters has shrunk significantly over the course of several years.

Still, local theater owners are hopeful that they will overcome the pandemic’s impact with the support of community members.

“We’re all hoping that this gets resolved quickly and everybody can go back to work and feel safe going out to the places that are open,” Walravens said. “But it has to change considerably from where we’re at now.”

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Faith Academy seniors offer advice to underclassmen

Faith Academy students graduated Sunday.

The private school students received their diplomas in front of their families at Faith Family Church.

Before the long-awaited ceremony, they shared advice to their younger peers.

Q: What advice would you give the underclassmen at Faith Academy?