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Man, in his 40s, is eighth fatality in Victoria County
  • Updated

Victoria County recorded its eighth death from COVID-19 on Monday.

The patient, a Victoria man in his 40s, had been hospitalized in Victoria. He is the youngest person so far to die of the virus in the county, according to a news release from public officials.

The Victoria County Public Health Department did not release any additional information about the man. It is unknown whether he had any medical conditions that might have complicated the disease. Data from the first few months of the pandemic have shown that people over the age of 65, and those with certain illnesses, are more likely to suffer a severe case of the respiratory disease or even die. But even healthy adults can become severely ill or die of COVID-19, and scientists are still working to understand why the virus can impact people so differently.

The health department also confirmed that six additional residents tested positive for the new coronavirus. In total, 179 residents have been confirmed to have the disease. Of those, 149 patients have recovered.

The increase in cases, and the latest death, illustrate what public health officials have stressed for weeks: That although Victoria and the surrounding area have avoided a severe outbreak of the disease, the situation could change quickly in the coming weeks and months.

Dr. Daniel Cano, the chief medical officer at Citizens Medical Center, said in an email that the Victoria area “has done well, all things considered, during this pandemic.”

But while Victoria hasn’t suffered as severe an outbreak as other parts of the country, overall incidence of the disease continues to grow in Texas. New cases in Texas have steadily grown since May 31.

Dr. Leilani Valdes, medical director for Regional Pathology Associates in Victoria, said potential reasons that transmission has stayed relatively low in Victoria is less traffic in and out of the region, the response of Victoria’s medical community, and residents following the advice of public health officials.

“We happen to be in a low incidence area, but I think what we do now and moving forward is going to have just as equal an impact in whether or not we stay a low incidence area,” Valdes said. “While we’re doing really well, we have to pay attention to what’s happening outside (our region). It could change just with one or two people going to a high-incidence area and coming back into our community and not having that same sense of diligence that they did prior.”

Projections from the the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin forecast COVID-19 deaths will slowly start to decline in June. The consortium’s model expects a small decline to about 15 deaths on June 28.

Spencer Fox, the associate director of the consortium, explained that he and his colleagues are confident in the model’s ability to forecast three to four weeks out, but not beyond that, in part because the models are heavily reliant on individual behavior, which can change quickly.

“I think if next week everyone drops all preventative measures against COVID and starts acting like normal again then we would definitely project something completely different than what we’re projecting right now,” Fox said.

Fox, who is also a research associate at the Meyers Lab, said additional research from the consortium has shown some promising signs as states continue to reopen public spaces. At the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., before most regions had put in place restrictions, mobility and transmission were closely related, Fox said. But now, the link isn’t quite as strong, which Fox said suggests that prevention measures like wearing face coverings, washing hands regularly and other steps are effective as slowing the spread of the virus, even as people leave their homes more.

“All of these preventative measures that have kind of become commonplace now seem to actually have a very strong effect on the transmission rate and what that means is that we’re still learning what the mobility today means over the next two weeks because it’s different than what we saw early in the pandemic,” Fox said.

Matagorda County

Six new cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday in Matagorda County.

Local officials initially reported that three residents had tested positive for the new coronavirus Monday before identifying three additional positive patients.

The new cases bring the county’s total to 77. Of those, 46 have recovered and five residents have died.

The new patients include: a woman between the ages of 60 and 70; two men between the ages of 15 and 25; a woman between the ages of 25 and 35; a man between the ages of 50 and 60; and a woman between the ages of 50 and 60, according to a news release from the Matagorda County Emergency Operations Center.

All six patients are recovering at home. The 76th and 77th patients, a man and woman both between the ages of 50 and 60, are “socially connected” according to local officials. The other patients do not appear to be connected.

More than 2,000 tests have been completed in Matagorda County, officials said.

Wharton County

Two new cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday to the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management by the Texas Department of State Health services.

The total number of COVID-19 cases reported in the county is now 74. The county also reported four new recoveries Monday, bringing the number of recoveries to 42; one county resident has died of the disease.

One of the county residents diagnosed with COVID-19 is a woman between the ages of 20 and 30 who resides in the city of Wharton. The other is an El Campo man aged 50 to 60.

The county OEM said the method of transmission in one of the cases is unknown. The other case likely contracted the virus that causes the disease from a family member.

Jackson County

A new case of COVID-19 was confirmed to officials in Jackson County on Sunday.

The new case was identified by the state on Thursday but was not confirmed to local officials until Sunday, said Bill Jones, the CEO of the Jackson County Hospital.

State officials did not confirm the gender or age of the patient.

In total, 20 county residents have tested positive for the new coronavirus. Of those, 17 people have recovered. One resident has died.

Refugio County

Officials in Refugio County confirmed that two more residents of the county had tested positive for COVID-19.

The fourth patient, a man in his 20s, is currently isolated, according to a news release. The man is thought to be infected through community transmission.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is working to identify any close contacts of the man so they can also isolate themselves and monitor themselves for symptoms.

In total, five county resident have tested positive for COVID-19 in Refugio County. Of the five cases, three residents have recovered.

Calhoun County

Calhoun County officials reported multiple new cases of COVID-19 in residents Monday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported three new cases in the county, according to a statement. These include four “probable” COVID-19 cases that haven’t yet been confirmed, the statement said.

Of 45 total cases, 37 people have recovered. Three residents have died.

Note: The headline on this story was updated to correct the victim's age.

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New recruits keep rolling in for US armed forces despite pandemic
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Military recruiting remains mission critical for the armed forces in the Crossroads during the pandemic.

The effects of COVID-19 have changed everyday operations, but finding new recruits carries on with many recent Crossroads graduates eager to serve their country.

Recent Goliad High School graduate Ben Roe is excited to start his career in the U.S. Air Force, but many of the specifics in the near future are still up in the air. He is set to ship out to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on July 21 for boot camp and then complete technical school in Wichita Falls to become an Air Force bomber refueling mechanic.

July 21 was Roe’s initial date to ship out, but other recruits are being delayed because of COVID-19.

The delays have been scheduled to ensure social distancing at boot camps can be maintained.

Air Force Tech Sgt. Justin Fultz, who focuses on the Victoria area, said there are recruits from the Crossroads whose dates to ship out are delayed by a few weeks.

The Air Force has the career path Roe wants – to be a mechanic – and he said it was a great military branch to join. But to get down to work, he and many other new recruits will have to balance the COVID-19 impact as well.

New recruits haven’t stopped pursuing goals such as being a bomber mechanic because of the pandemic, and neither has recruitment.

Using a virtual tool like social media became more common than it already was for the Air Force because of the difficulty in meeting potential recruits in person.

“Classrooms are usually where I’ll meet the seniors and people who have been interested or people who hadn’t thought about joining the Air Force before,” Fultz said. “So that part has been kind of taken away to a certain extent.”

Recruiting for the U.S. Army in Victoria has taken a similar approach by using more social media, and it only recently started to see potential recruits in the Victoria office. This is possible like many other activities that are starting to resume by wearing personal protective equipment and keeping a safe distance.

Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Hall, who focuses on recruiting in the Crossroads, said recruitment slowed down in the beginning of March and April and has since picked up. One key reason is graduations create a new class of recruits and another is there is more information available to potential recruits on how the process works during the pandemic.

After the recruitment process, the logistics of getting newcomers started on the right foot are being worked out.

“This is a whole new thing for everybody, the corona(virus),” said recent Edna High School graduate Ahlazah Roy. “The fact that we’re not really sure about how to approach it worries me because I’m going to be out on my own without my parents.”

Roy will join the Army in June when she ships out to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Despite not knowing exactly what is in store, the Army and other military branches have been working to continue operations with COVID-19 guidelines.

Roe said the Air Force has informed him the first two weeks of his service will include a quarantine for new recruits. He’s not quite sure yet how training will work during that time.

“I’m not really worried about it,” Roe said. “I just got to keep my distance from people and do my training and move on.”

Taking measures to continue social distancing for new recruits is now common for the armed forces by instituting a 14-day off-site restriction of movement when new recruits arrive.

According to a statement by Master Chief Navy Counselor Matthew Maduemesi, all incoming naval recruits’ 14-day restriction of movement is in a local hotel upon arrival. New recruits use this time to complete paperwork and travel to their processing stations during the day.

The Coast Guard was contacted but did not accept requests for an interview.

The Air Force is taking similar measures by keeping new recruits in separate living quarters during those two weeks to guarantee strong health before they carry on with boot camp, according to a 37th Training Wing press release.

While uncertainty can deter some from making a commitment that will change their life, Roy thinks back to her family’s legacy of American service as she prepares to enlist.

“I’ve always wanted to do it since I was really little,” Roy said. “I remember seeing my grandpa’s medals whenever I was little being like ‘I want to be just like him.’”

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Community meets first of four VC presidential candidates
  • Updated

James Dire

Victoria College presidential candidate James Dire said he plans to build community relationships if selected as the next college president.

“It’s important as a college president to make the connections in the community, and that’s going to be the learning curve,” Dire said during a public forum Monday.

Dire was the first of four presidential candidates to discuss their plans at public forums hosted by the college. Each candidate will answer questions and discuss their credentials with the public during two forums each day.

The four candidates were selected by a search committee composed of college employees and community members, which was formed shortly after David Hinds announced his retirement in September.

A sole finalist is scheduled to be announced June 12-18, said Terri Kurtz, VC Human Resources executive director. The board will vote on the new president’s contract during its July 20 board meeting.

Dire currently serves as the chancellor of a health science college in Peoria, Ill. He has more than 30 years experience in higher education, which he discussed Monday.

Dire said meeting the community leaders and learning about the regional workforce needs would be among his top priorities as president.

“I don’t know the people and the people are the most important to know,” he said.

Community members and college employees texted questions for Dire to answer during his two forums. Among the questions was how Dire would manage the relationship between VC and the University of Houston-Victoria, which are close neighbors.

Dire said he has experience as an administrator at both a two-year and four-year institution. With that experience, he wants to build a smooth transfer experience.

VC has seen a student enrollment decrease during the past few years, and Dire said that comes from a good economy and competition.

“When the economy is going good, the enrollment at community college drops and when the economy is going down the enrollment goes up,” he said.

He said the best way to increase enrollment is to offer “excellence” that students can’t find at other institutions.

Community member Kathy Hunt said she would like to see the future VC president focus on community partnerships.

“The partnership with businesses and community organizations are very important to have,” Hunt said. “I really like the community aspect to what a president would bring.”

Dire also touched on the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest seen across the country and he said education is the way to solve those problems.

“This is pretty unusual and trying times right now,” Dire said. “Education is the key to solving a lot of ills in our country.”

Students do Kettlebell workouts during Mondays strength and conditioning drills at Victoria West.

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Victoria County commissioners delay previously approved forensic audit
  • Updated

Victoria County commissioners backed away Monday from paying for a forensic audit they earlier had agreed would examine the county’s management of Hurricane Harvey recovery money.

The concerns of some members of the court largely focused on the fact that the proposal from BKD, the firm the commissioners chose to perform the audit, did not have a dollar figure attached to it or a “do not exceed” amount listed.

“It’s hard to see this as not a blank check,” County Judge Ben Zeller said, adding later he could in “no way” support the current proposal.

But businessman and Victoria Regional Airport Commissioner Dennis Patillo, who worked with Commissioner Gary Burns on negotiations with BKD, noted that the county would have the opportunity to monitor payments as the forensic audit proceeded and cut ties at any time.

Having a forensic audit done is important, Patillo said, because concerns among the public about how the county managed the recovery process remain prevalent, so much so that “you would have to be somewhat disingenuous to believe there isn’t a significant portion of the population that has questions about this.”

“The county commissioners, as well as the public, would be very well served to understand exactly what happened,” he said. “What the county commissioners do or don’t do with this I think speaks volumes.”

The commissioners approved the scope for the forensic audit in March and received 16 bids from interested firms. The commissioners then ranked the firms based on qualifications alone, rather than price, and BKD was the top choice.

According to BKD’s proposal, “It is not possible to provide an accurate estimate of the total time or fees required to complete the tasks assigned.”

Todd Burchett, a partner with BKD’s forensics and valuation services division, said similar projects have ranged in total price from $75,000 to $100,000, or $150,000 to $200,000, but the cost would depend on several factors that are impossible to estimate before starting the work, he said.

The firm would establish a reporting mechanism with the county to come back on a consistent basis and report “this is what we’ve done, this is what we think we need to do next,” Burchett said.

Like the rest of the court, Burns said he was not in favor of signing a blank check, but said he felt comfortable knowing the county could terminate the contract at any time if necessary. He said he wanted to move forward with at least the first phase of the audit, which would primarily include interviews with people involved in the recovery process after Harvey, and the court could review and go from there. He said anytime you do a major project, especially in private business, it’s wise to do a review.

“You see what you did right, because there were a lot of things done right in this process, you see what you did wrong, what areas were of major concern … ,” he said. “And you learn something. And then the next time this happens, you’re not going to make the same mistakes; you’re going to make better decisions.”

Commissioner Kevin Janak said if the county has the funds to pay for a forensic audit, the court should consider giving money to road and bridge crews as well, so taxpayers can see what they are paying for.

“And the taxpayers will be able to see exactly where there money was spent, a new road,” he said. “On this, I fear, what are they actually going to get? … You ask yourself, why are we doing this?”

The commissioners considered requesting the forensic audit be performed in stages to monitor progress and the cost, but were unable to agree on a dollar amount for each stage or for the entirety of the work. Patillo and Burns noted also that it could be problematic to confine the scope.

“You can’t micromanage an investigation,” Burns said.

The county is preparing to outline its 2021 budget and will need to take into account considerable losses of revenue from the impact of COVID-19. Commissioner Clint Ives said that assuming cuts have to be made within county departments, the forensic audit might not be the top priority.

“You’re not going to find a lot of taxpayers concerned about the forensic audit,” he said.

Sean Kennedy, the county treasurer, said otherwise.

“I believe it is long overdue,” he said.

The court delayed taking action on the current proposal Monday. Burns plans to meet with the county attorney and bring back to the court an alternate proposal with numbers included. He said after the meeting that he couldn’t say when exactly it would come back to the court, but said he is “jumping on it, because this is important.”

“We’ve gone on long enough,” he said. “We’ve got to get this going and move on.”