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Layoffs cause thousands to lose health insurance in Texas

More than 650,000 Texans lost health insurance because of layoffs between February and May of this year, according to an estimate from the nonprofit Families USA.

The nonprofit estimates that 29% of Texans under 65 didn’t have health insurance as of May, a higher percentage than any other state in the U.S., according to a report the group released last month.

Estimates are not yet available for how many Crossroads residents might have lost their health insurance because they were laid off or their hours were cut. But anecdotally, insurance agents and nonprofits say the number of people seeking help paying for their health care has increased.

Jeannette Flores, an independent health insurance agent in Victoria, said she has been helping more people enroll in the Affordable Care Act since the pandemic started compared to the same period last year. Usually, her busiest time of year is during open enrollment, which in Texas starts Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. But because so many people have lost their jobs and subsequently lost their employer-sponsored health plans, she said more people are trying desperately to find ways to pay for their cancer treatments, their prescription medications, and other health care.

Flores said the problem is worsened by the fact that most people don’t realize that if they lose their job, they have 60 days to buy a health plan through the ACA marketplace. Usually, Texans can only buy a plan through the marketplace during the open enrollment period, unless they’ve experienced a job loss or other qualifying event.

“They think that when they lose their jobs they can’t afford insurance. They get that COBRA paper work from their employer and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t afford this, it’s more than $1,000 or $2,000 a month to insure my family,’” she said. “But they’re not being told they have another option. You can go to the ACA.”

About 11.5 million Americans buy insurance through the marketplace. Most Americans get insurance through their jobs, or else qualify for public health insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare, the insurance program for veterans. But millions of Americans lack health insurance, which can make life-saving treatments impossible for them to pay for out of pocket if they have an emergency or get diagnosed with a serious illness.

Even before the pandemic and the subsequent job losses, Texas had more uninsured residents than any other state.

Flores urged people who have recently lost their jobs to call an agent who specialized in the ACA to get a free quote and see what subsidies they might qualify for.

The Food Bank of the Golden Crescent also provides help for people who qualify for social services. Families and children who qualify for help buying groceries or for health insurance programs like Medicaid and CHIP, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, can get help figuring out whether they are eligible and filling out the paperwork to receive the benefits.

Robin Cadle, the executive director of the Food Bank, said there has been an increase in people using all of the food bank’s offerings, including those applying for social services like Medicaid insurance.

Cadle said many of the forms required to apply for government programs can be daunting and confusing, which is why those who need assistance should turn to the Food Bank for help.

“I mean I have three master’s degrees and I don’t want to fill out these forms,” Cadle said.

Businesses on historic Goliad Courthouse Square struggle during pandemic

GOLIAD — Before COVID-19 arrived, Tivoli resident Jay Kelso had visited the Blue Quail Deli about once a week for the past 13 years.

“The food is always good,” said Kelso, who was devouring a club sandwich at a table inside Wednesday.

But in 2020, the year of the coronavirus, the routine of those weekly lunches ceased, becoming all but a distant memory.

In fact, since March, Kelso had visited the deli and the city’s courthouse square where it lies only three times.

“At first, it was just the scare of it, the uncertainty,” Kelso said. “I was trying to stay away and avoid contact with people as much as possible.”

With a staged reopening of Texas restaurants now in effect, Kelso said he is eager for his life to regain at least a semblance of normality.

“We still have to live, so let’s get some sense of normal life back,” he said. “This was kind of my normal thing – to come and eat a sandwich.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Crossroads business owners have reported troubling declines in revenue amid government orders aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

In Goliad, that trend is also apparent at the celebrated courthouse square, which has not only served as a cultural and historical focal point for the community but also stimulus for the local economy.

Blue Quail owner and longtime county resident Rob Baiamonte said the deli’s business is down about 20%.

Apart from a local boycott more than a decade ago that was in response to the Baiamontes’ stance on a school bond, this year has proved the hardest in recent memory, he said.

But with revenue coming in from some rented homes owned by the Baiamontes, he said they are able to keep the deli afloat for the time being.

The deli, he said, is also benefited by a reputation for its homemade menu created by his wife that features a cream of jalapeno soup that is renowned among those lucky enough to taste it.

During hunting season, it’s common for hunters passing through to stop for a gallon or two before continuing on their way.

Owners of other restaurants and bars on the square have gone a different direction and closed during the pandemic, making the Blue Quail the only open place to get a meal or drink.

After all, the square is especially quiet these days, said Goliad Main Street Director Keli Miller.

At least two restaurants on the square closed after the pandemic began, including The Empresario Restaurant and Mustang Cantina.

Also recently closed on the square are Mattie’s Bakery and Cafe as well as Commercial Street Bar.

Despite that disappointing news, there are plans to reopen the businesses.

For example, Goliad voters will decide in November whether to approve a license to allow The Empresario, which has been open for more than 30 years, to reopen as a bingo hall, and new owners of the Commercial Street Bar hope to obtain a license to sell alcohol and reopen once state restrictions are lifted for bars.

For Miller, a Goliad County native who returned to the rural community after college, the square still holds plenty of promise.

Although some businesses are suffering, she said the community’s charm and abundantly friendly residents mean the square will return as an enticing tourist destination.

Mustang Cantina owner Scottie Light, of San Antonio, said that while he closed his restaurant during the pandemic’s early days because he suspected customers would disappear, he also said he has plans to reopen by the end of the year.

“I recognized what was coming,” he said.

The reopening of his restaurant, he said, will coincide with a grand opening for an adjacent seven-room hotel that has remained under construction for years.

In the meantime, some businesses on the square are persisting with COVID-19 precautions that include requirements for face coverings and curbside pickups.

Gay Urban, owner of Square Gallery, posted a sign on her business’ front window asking customers to call her if they want to browse.

During the pandemic, she said she gets about two to three visitors a week. Previous years, she could see up to a dozen visitors on busy week days.

Although her profits are down about 70%, Urban said she has no plans to close for the time being.

That’s in part because she considers the Gallery to be a valuable face for the community for her customers, most of whom are from adjacent communities or even faraway countries like Japan or Norway.

Without the square, many visitors might simply pass through the town without stopping, which would be a shame, she said.

Despite that enthusiasm, Urban said she is not sure what she might do if the pandemic stretches into 2021.

“We’re trying to make Goliad nice,” she said. “We’re trying to make Goliad a place to to come, but this pandemic has us.”

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7 COVID-19 deaths reported in Crossroads

Seven more Crossroads residents have died from complications of COVID-19, officials throughout the region confirmed Wednesday.

In Victoria County, officials said a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s died from coronavirus-related deaths. Both patients had been hospitalized in Victoria prior to their deaths. No other details about the patients or their cases were released.

As of Wednesday evening, 43 county residents have died from complications of COVID-19.

Officials also said 23 new cases were confirmed and 48 patients recovered Wednesday. In all, 3,418 people have been diagnosed with the respiratory disease in the county. Of those, 2,131 patients have recovered. There are 1,244 active cases in the county as of 6 p.m. Wednesday.

DeWitt County

Four more county residents in DeWitt have died from complications related to COVID-19, and all were either hospital inpatients or residents of local nursing homes, local officials said Wednesday.

In all, 27 county residents with the respiratory disease have died, according to a news release from DeWitt County officials.

Officials also confirmed 11 new cases of COVID-19 and 32 recoveries. Of the new cases, seven patients live in the Cuero ZIP code, one lives in the Yoakum ZIP code, and three live in the Yorktown ZIP code.

In total, 637 people have been diagnosed with the disease in DeWitt County. Of those, 458 have recovered.

Of the active cases, 146 patients are isolating in their homes, and eight people are inpatients in medical facilities.

Lavaca County

A fifth Lavaca County resident has died from COVID-19 complications, officials said on Wednesday.

The person lived in Yoakum, according to a news release from Lavaca County Emergency Management Coordinator Egon Barthels. No additional information about the death was released.

Twenty-two more cases of COVID-19 were also reported in the county. Of Lavaca’s 641 cases, 63 were active as of Wednesday, Barthels said.

An estimated 573 people have recovered from the disease and five people have died from COVID-19 complications.

A discrepancy persists between the number of deaths the state health department has listed for the county on its statewide dashboard and Public Health Region 8 of the state health department is reporting to the county.

Public Health Region 8 serves as the health authority for the majority of counties in the region that do not have their own public health department.

Barthels said the statewide dashboard reflects a higher number of deaths for Lavaca County because the state recently started tallying the number of deaths in each county by using death certificates where COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death. Region 8, on the other hand, is continuing to do its own investigations.

“Once investigations are completed, the information from DSHS PHR 8, will be reflected in the LCEM COVID-19 Report,” Barthels said in a news release.

Calhoun County

Calhoun County emergency management officials confirmed 18 new cases in the county Wednesday.

In total, 518 cases have been diagnosed of the respiratory disease. Of these, an estimated 438 patients have recovered as of Wednesday evening, and three county residents with the disease have died.

There are 77 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, according to the office of emergency management.

Jackson County

There are 36 new cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County, according to Public Health Region 8 of the state health department.

These new cases bring the county’s total number of diagnoses to 382. Two county residents with the respiratory disease have died.

An estimated 320 patients have recovered, and there are 60 active cases in the county.

Refugio County

Refugio County reported two new cases of COVID-19.

The new patients are two men, one in his 30s and the other in his 60s, according to a county news release.

Refugio now has 216 confirmed cases with 108 recovered as of Wednesday.

Goliad County did not report any new cases Wednesday, and Wharton County officials had not released a report as of 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Matagorda County

State officials confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19 in Matagorda County on Wednesday.

In all, 688 Matagorda County residents have been diagnosed with the disease, according to state data. Of those, 23 county residents have died, and an estimated 331 patients have recovered.

Goliad and Wharton counties did not report any new cases as of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.