Coronavirus cases surging in the Bay Area

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As the economy continues to restart and businesses have begun to reopen, COVID-19 cases are surging in Galveston and Harris counties, resulting in the highest number of new daily cases since the pandemic began.

From June 21-27, Galveston County saw more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases—the most the county has seen in a single week since the outbreak began. An average of nearly 150 cases were reported a day during that time, which is more new cases than the county saw over the course of three weeks in May.

The number of coronavirus cases in the county nearly tripled during June, according to the health department’s case count database: There were a total of 847 confirmed cases on June 1, with the county passing the 1,000-case mark June 8 and hitting 2,000 cases about two weeks later on June 23. An additional 231 cases were reported June 30, bringing the total to 3,293.

Outbreaks at six nursing homes in Friendswood, League City and Texas City have infected more than 200 people, per health department data. The outbreaks account for roughly one in every six cases in League City and in Texas City, and less than 5% of the total cases in Friendswood.

On June 22, Harris County saw its single-highest number of new cases at 1,994. Since mid-June, Harris County has seen over 1,000 cases almost daily.

The jump makes sense considering May 1 was the beginning of Texas reopening its economy, Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser said. The higher number of cases is a trend Keiser said could continue for months.

“I think it’s clearly a general lack of social distancing,” Keiser said.

As businesses have reopened, residents have been gathering in close proximity to go to bars, restaurants, stores or the beach. As it stands, Galveston County is under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders when it comes to reopening and cannot do much to quell the surge in cases, Keiser said.

League City officials held a ceremony June 17 to mark the city’s reopening, and members of the League City Emergency Turnaround Taskforce provided businesses with the city’s Workplace Protection Pledge at the event. The pledge, which comes with a reopening toolkit of recommended safety practices, was created by the taskforce as a way for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to protect their employees and customers through signage on display at their establishment.

Harris County in late June issued an order requiring businesses to make masks mandatory for employees and patrons. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo elevated the county’s COVID-19 threat level from “significant” to “severe” on the afternoon of June 26, which is the highest threat level possible.

While some are washing their hands and wearing masks in public while maintaining distance from others, many are not, contributing to the spike, Keiser said.

“Some are doing it well, and ... some of them just make you cringe,” he said.

Recent protests over police brutality and racial injustice could factor into increasing infection rates in Galveston County, but the county saw fewer protests than Houston and Harris County, where protests are likely a greater contributor to potential case count increases, Keiser said.

Galveston County hospitals have the bed capacity to handle the surge in cases, but that does not mean there will not be challenges, Keiser said.

The number of COVID-19 patients in general ward hospitals in Harris County hit a new high on June 30, with 1,630 people reported as hospitalized. At the end of June, ICU occupancy rates in the Texas Medical Center were around 97% related to operational beds. Once those beds are fully occupied, officials will unlock more ICU beds in two phases.

Hidalgo said at a June 30 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting the public must take actions to avoid having to use those beds.

“That’s no way to run a society, that you’re doubling up, tripling up rooms, importing staff, taking beds for heart attacks and strokes and turning them into ICU beds,” she said. “That’s not the goal. We need to not get there, which is why we really need people to stay home.”

Many residents are tired of COVID-19, quarantining and social distancing, which is understandable; the economy cannot stay shut down forever, but that does not mean residents should be careless, Keiser said.

Shawn Arrajj contributed to this report.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.



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