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Bar owner concerned for employees in latest round of closures

Carlos Salas still hasn’t fully digested the news that his bar will be closed for business – again.

Salas owns Dodge City Saloon, and it will close under Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest orders, which was announced Friday.

Abbott ordered Texas bars to close and restaurants to reduce down to 50% occupancy as coronavirus continues to spread in the state. Bars closed Friday afternoon and restaurants will reduce to its lower occupancy on Monday.

“The cash flow is cut off. The employees are out of work,” Salas said. “It’s tough. I worry about my employees.”

Victoria County reported 37 new COVID-19 cases Friday bringing the county total to 505, according to a news release from the county health department.

Of those infected with the virus, 14 new people have recovered bringing that total to 236. Eight people have died of the virus.

The daily numbers are subject to change as epidemiologist investigate cases, according to the news release.

Abbott closed bars and restaurants and limited them to take out only in March and that lasted about two months before the governor implemented a phased reopening. The reopening was halted as the state experienced record-breaking confirmed cases and hospitalizations. The governor also banned outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people unless local officials approve.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a news release. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”

Salas said he was grateful to be open the past month, and it was nice to see his customers again even if it was a smaller capacity.

“I was just glad to be open,” he said. “If you make a dollar, at least you made a dollar.”

During the time they were open, Salas said all his employees wore masks and gloves, drinks were served in plastic cups to avoid contact and temperatures were taken of patrons at the door.

Salas said he is concerned for his 12-13 employees, but he knows that when the bar reopens his customers will return.

Early this week, Salas anticipated the governor would close bars again, but when it didn’t happen he was hopeful. He started preparing to follow Mayor Rawley McCoy’s orders, which required all businesses to require customers and employees wear masks, but that order no longer applies to his business.

That order will take effect Monday.

“It’s been a very stressful week,” he said.

Lavaca, DeWitt, Matagorda, Jackson and Wharton counties reported increases in COVID-19 cases Friday.

Lavaca County

State health officials reported 12 more cases of COVID-19 among county residents on Friday, said Egon Barthels, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Of the county’s 119 cases, 88 remained active as of Friday, Barthels said.

Forty seven of the active cases had been confirmed by the state, while 41 were pending investigation, he said. One resident has died from COVID-19 complications and 30 had recovered.

Discrepancies exist in the number of cases the state has reported in the county. Based on reports from the state for Wednesday and Thursday that the county released, Friday’s numbers do not account for 11 cases that were previously reported.

Barthels said he was notified that one previously reported case was moved to Gonzales County, where the patient lives. As for the others, the state is trying to figure out where reporting errors were made, he said.

The state did, however, confirm that Friday’s total of 119 was correct, he said.

Lavaca County’s cases heavily increased throughout the week, where testing that was performed by the Texas Military Department in the City of Moulton last week likely played a role, Barthels said.

Of the 115 tests completed that day, 73 were negative for COVID-19, and 42 were positive, he said. A total of 52 residents from Lavaca County tested negative and 36 tested positive.

“We had a bigger jump with the numbers,” he said. “They just started skyrocketing.”

The Lavaca Medical Center’s visitation suspension, which went into effect June 19, remains in place until further notice, according to a news release from the hospital.

The only exceptions are one parent or guardian for pediatric patients, one caregiver for patients who may have dementia or special needs and visitors for patients who are critically ill and at the end of life.

Patients and those listed above will continue to be actively screened at the main and ER entrances, the news release said.

DeWitt County

DeWitt County reported six new cases of the new coronavirus on Friday.

The county has reported 56 cases to date, including 19 in the past week. Twenty-six people are isolating at home, including all six whose cases were confirmed Friday. Three people are inpatients at Victoria medical facilities. Twenty-six have recovered. One has died, according to a news release from the county.

Jackson County

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported three new cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County Friday.

In all, 39 residents have tested positive for the disease. There are 25 confirmed cases and 14 that are still pending investigation.

Of the 39 cases, 17 are still active and 21 patients have recovered. One county resident with COVID-19 has died.

Matagorda County

Five new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Matagorda County on Friday.

The new cases bring the county’s total to 160, with 94 cases being active. Of the 160 cases, 61 patients have recovered and five have died.

Four patients are seeking treatment for the disease in Matagorda County medical facilities, according to a news release from the Matagorda County Emergency Operation Center.

The county is anticipating additional positive cases in coming days after a “record number” of tests this week, said county spokesman Mitch Thames. A free testing site was held in county Wednesday and Thursday.

Wharton County

Wharton County reported four new cases of COVID-19 Friday, according the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management bringing the county’s total to 145 cases.

Of those, 60 have recovered and one died. No recoveries were reported Friday.

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Officials: Victoria land use analysis leads to hope, plans for vibrant downtown

Walking along Main Street from Victoria City Hall toward De Leon Plaza, Danielle Williams notices both the active storefronts and the vacant buildings.

Williams, Victoria’s Main Street Program director, admires the new location of Vela Farms, peers in at the construction for the future location of Texian Books and Bethune & Son and regards the historic architecture of other downtown buildings in between.

Around the corner on Santa Rosa Street, Williams points out Moonshine Drinkery, and a vacant building at the end of the block that was buzzing earlier this month when it served as a temporary home to an estate sale event.

But across from the plaza, Williams also acknowledges the buildings that sit empty, most for sale or for lease. On a recent afternoon walk, Williams said she hoped the results of a land use fiscal analysis performed for the city will bring awareness and growth to the city’s downtown.

“I hope it made people aware of our downtown and to how to develop and invest in our city,” she said. “A lot of what we’re missing are your boutique shops, more restaurants, more nightlife, and a lot of these older buildings just need some love.”

Cities across the country have a resource gap when considering the amount of money needed to rebuild streets and provide basic services while maintaining quality of life for current and future residents, said Mike Etienne, one of Victoria’s assistant city managers, during the Victoria City Council meeting June 16.

One of the issues the city of Victoria faces, Etienne said, is that the land use and development patterns do not generate enough property tax revenue to cover the costs for services.

To help the city close its resource gap and become more financially resilient, the city contracted with Verdunity to perform a land use fiscal analysis for properties in the city. Verdunity CEO Kevin Shepherd presented the results of the analysis at the June 16 council meeting.

Between 1950 and 2015, Shepherd said, the city’s service area grew by 13 times, while the population only grew by four times. This expanded the city’s service responsibilities but spread out and diluted the tax base, he said.

The city has some dense areas that produce great revenue, but also has a significant amount of undeveloped land that does not, he said. In figures, 70% of the city’s area is generating less than $1,000 per acre. But, 76% of the city’s parcels are generating more than $1,000 per acre.

Shepherd compared a 1.5-acre area on Main Street downtown that generates more than $13,000 per acre in property tax revenue with a 3.71-acre suburban strip mall with a large parking lot that generates just under $2,200 per acre.

Additionally, 34% of the city’s land area is undeveloped.

When there’s a gap a city is looking to close by generating additional revenue, the default option is raising the tax rate, Shepherd said. But, as that’s rarely a preferred option, city’s can also change their development pattern.

Among his recommendations, Shepherd advised city officials to focus infrastructure, reinvestment and economic development resources into the older existing neighborhoods to retain and attract people and businesses. Doing so, he said, will help stabilize and grow property values in these areas as opposed to allowing them to deteriorate.

The analysis was meant to help city officials consider and strategize about where and how to invest infrastructure and economic development resources in the future, rather than just understand the state of Victoria’s land use now, said City Manager Jesús Garza.

“You hear often times us talking about quality of life, and you hear us talking about how investing in downtown enhances quality of life or investing in Riverside Park enhances quality of life, but for a lot of people that’s hard to wrap their head around because it’s not really a tangible thing,” he said.

The analysis provides city officials something more tangible to work with when creating various master plans for the city as well as when having conversations with developers, Garza said.

For Williams, she dreams of having a vibrant downtown that both creates revenue for the city and results in a high quality of life for residents. It’s no secret that many people in the community want to see more in Victoria’s downtown, she said, whether that looks like more shops, restaurants or a hotel.

Williams plans to ask for residents’ feedback this year when creating the city’s downtown master plan.

“There’s so much charm downtown, and I’d love to see it grow,” she said. “It takes time, but I think it can be done. I really do.”

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Federal judge sworn in at Victoria courthouse, filling last Texas vacancy

Drew Tipton, a Houston lawyer specializing in employment, labor and trade secret litigation, was sworn in as federal judge on Friday. He will sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi, filling the final judicial vacancy on the Texas federal bench.

Tipton was sworn in by Senior Judge John Rainey, of Victoria. Both judges are from Angleton. Tipton completed a clerkship with Rainey while attending South Texas College of Law in Houston.

During the swearing-in, Rainey said he was proud of Tipton’s decision to switch over from private practice to public service, adding his former clerk would bring a sense of compassion to the bench.

Tipton’s father and grandfather were both Baptist preachers. Tipton, too, enjoyed speaking in front of a crowd, which led him to the courtroom, he said Friday.

In 21 years with Baker Hostetler, a Houston firm, Tipton came to specialize in trade secret litigation surrounding restrictive covenants, which come into play when an executive at one company departs to work at a competitor. He said his experience defending plaintiffs and defendants in those cases has prepared him for this lifetime judicial appointment.

“Those trade secret theft cases can really go nuclear,” Tipton said. “My style was always to try to take the edge off of it, never hedging on what your goal is but just not getting hung up on the emotions. That’s what I’m hoping I’ll bring to the bench: Judge Rainey-like patience.”

Tipton joined the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group known for its influence on judicial nominations, in 2010. He was recommended by the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, a bipartisan panel of leading Texas attorneys hailing, as Tipton put it, “from El Paso to Beaumont and from the Panhandle down to The Valley.”

Tipton was confirmed by the U.S. Senate June 3 on a 52-41 party-line vote. Two hundred of President Trump’s judicial appointees have been confirmed as of Friday, including 53 circuit court judges.

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Health Care
Victoria officials talk mask order, increase in COVID-19 cases

Local officials implored Victoria residents to wear facial coverings and keep a physical distance from other people to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“If everyone’s wearing a mask, that coronavirus has got to go through two specific barriers to get into you,” said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s local health authority, during a news conference Friday. “There is no science-based justification to say, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask.”

Like the rest of the state, Victoria is seeing a surge in cases of COVID-19, with more than 261 residents currently infected as of Friday evening.

On Thursday, Victoria Mayor Rawley McCoy implemented new orders requiring Victoria businesses to implement additional safety measures, including mandating businesses to require their customers to wear a facial covering when social distancing isn’t possible.

The order will be enforceable by any local law enforcement agency, as will the Texas governor’s order that ordered all bars to close and restaurants to limit their customers, officials said Friday.

McCoy explained the thinking behind his order at the news conference, where local officials also urged Victoria residents to be vigilant and careful as COVID-19 cases continue to break records in the city and across the state. McCoy said he was worried about the increase in cases and the declining availability of beds in local hospitals’ intensive care units.

On Thursday, there were 12 ICU beds available in Victoria hospitals, McCoy said. And the larger hospitals in Houston, Austin and San Antonio are filling up with COVID-19 patients, limiting their ability to take transfer patients from Victoria.

“If we would have, say, a major accident here in Victoria, over the 4th, or something like that…we have a problem. A big problem,” McCoy said.

McCoy’s order has two major parts. First, the order mandates that all employees and visitors inside a city facility within city limits must wear masks while on the premises. This includes city facilities like the Victoria Public Library and 700 Main Center.

Second, the order instructs all businesses within the city of Victoria to require employees and citizens to wear a facial covering if it is not possible to keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.

McCoy said representatives from H-E-B, which has two stores in Victoria, had contacted him to express their interest in action from the city.

City officials also released more details about city employees who recently tested positive for COVID-19. City Manager Jesús Garza said four city employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week. These employees include a firefighter/paramedic and employees of the parks, environmental services and public works departments. All four employees are isolated in their homes, Garza said. None were infected through interactions at work.

The city is evaluating its current operations to decrease chances of infection, including all City Council meetings will return to virtual meetings going forward.

McCoy added that the order was intended “to do everything within our power to allow businesses to stay open and do so safely.”

County Judge Ben Zeller was not present at Friday’s news conference, but did release a statement.

“At this time, the county is not issuing any additional emergency orders,” Zeller wrote in the statement. “I am actively visiting with county residents and our local health professionals, and am listening to the community like I do before making any decision. We will continue monitoring this situation closely at the county, and we trust people to use their best judgment as they are out and about this weekend.”

An estimated 1,239 samples were collected from Victoria residents at the temporary, walk-up testing site at the Victoria Community Center on Thursday and Friday, said Rick McBrayer, Victoria’s emergency management coordinator.