Coronavirus cases surging in the Bay Area

Image description
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.

<

MOST RECENT

COVID-19 vaccines
DATA: Texas has vaccinated about 9% of estimated Phase 1 recipients

Over 1.1 million individuals from the Phase 1 population, which is estimated to include 13.5 million individuals total, have received at least one dose.

Bob Popinski, policy director of Raise Your Hand Texas, shared the organization's top education priorities for the ongoing legislative session. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
‘What does virtual learning and remote learning look like moving forward?': Raise Your Hand Texas policy director talks legislative priorities

Bob Popinski is the director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas, an Austin-based organization committed to improving public education. He spoke with Community Impact Newspaper in late December about the 87th legislative session, which began Jan. 12.

Houston City Hall aerial view
Houston City Council ethics committee to review speech policies

The discussion comes after Facebook posts by Council Member Greg Travis led to calls for his resignation or censure.

For the next few months, League City City Council will hold meetings at the Johnnie Arolfo Civic Center because the council chambers next door are under renovation. (Courtesy city of League City)
League City council chambers under renovation

For the next few months, League City City Council will hold meetings at the Johnnie Arolfo Civic Center because the council chambers next door are under renovation.

Bayou City Art Festival Downtown is scheduled to return in person in October. (Courtesy Katya Horner/Bayou City Art Festival)
Bayou City Art Festival scheduled for in-person return in October

The Memorial Park version of the festival will be celebrated through alternative virtual and smaller in-person events.

At a Jan. 15 emergency court hearing, officials came up with a plan to try to reduce the inmate population at the Harris County Jail that centers on hosting more bail reduction hearings. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
With open beds dwindling, officials look for ways to reduce Harris County jail population

The inmate population at the Harris County Jail is rising, and officials are looking for ways to quickly ease the pressure as concerns grow over the ability to quarantine and restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Bocca Italian Kitchen serves seasonal, Italian-inspired dishes, such as polenta and various pastas. (Courtesy Marco Torres)
Italian eateries open in Generation Park; Houston bike lane fines enforced and more local news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Minute Maid Park
Houston Health Department vaccine appointments fill up in 16 minutes

The department will administer 5,000 doses at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 16 and 17.

(Courtesy Himalayan Taj)
IMPACTS ROUNDUP: Himalayan Taj now open and more

Here is a roundup of business news from Clear Lake and League City.

Officials expect demand for the vaccine will be huge once it opens to the general public. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County plans vaccine distribution; FDA warns of false negatives and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular stories from the past week from the Houston area.

Students will have the opportunity to safely show and sell their agriculture projects through the 2021 CCISD Livestock Show and Online Sale through Jan. 20. (Courtesy Clear Creek ISD)
Clear Creek ISD students take robotics competitions, livestock exhibitions virtual amid COVID-19

Although students may not be able to physically attend competitions and exhibitions, parents and district leaders said students are rising to the occasion with the remote experiences.

Man riding bike in city
Houston’s grace period for bike lane parking fines ends

Houston residents now face a $100 fine for parking in bike lanes.