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Jefferson County reaches “Red” for some COVID-19 categories. County, health leaders explain what that means.

The 14-day average of positive coronavirus cases in Jefferson County remains considerably smaller than when the average peaked at more than 100 in July.

Three months after a dangerous curve of COVID-19 cases, the threat of the virus in Jefferson County has reached Red, or Level 1 — the highest of four possible levels — in three categories.

For the entire county as of Monday (Oct. 26), the 14-day average dropped slightly from the end of September to 30.4 cases with a 9 percent positivity rate of those who test for COVID-19. Of intensive care unit beds in use, 25 percent are occupied with COVID-19 patients, while 10 percent of those with COVID-19 are hospitalized.

The 14-day average, positive rate and percentage of ICU beds in use exceeded Level 1 benchmarks.

A Level 2, or Orange, threat would indicate 10 to 20 cases on average, a positivity rate of less than 5 percent, ICU bed and hospitalization rates of 10 to 15 percent, or “no change” in overall 14-day trend.

Jefferson County is considered at Orange level in hospitalizations and overall trend. Last month, the trend reached Red level after the average soared from 20.6 on Sept. 1 to 34.3 on Sept. 30.

The data comes from the Port Arthur and Beaumont health departments and the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, and are sent through the office of Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.

“We hadn’t had a large amount of time where people aren’t being tested,” said Judith Smith, director of the Port Arthur Health Department. “Testing is going well.”

Jefferson County has totaled 128 deaths related to coronavirus out of 6,743 confirmed cases. That makes for a 1.9 percent case fatality rate, just below the 2.0 percent statewide mark and 2.6 percent U.S. rate.

For the Port Arthur Health Department service area (Port Arthur, Nederland, Port Neches and Groves), the fatality rate was 2.1 percent with 56 COVID-19 related deaths out of 2,678 cases through Monday.

Port Arthur recorded two more COVID-19 related deaths Tuesday and has accounted for 38 deaths. Nederland has 12, Groves four and Port Neches three.

Smith notes, however, she does not report whether a patient has died directly from coronavirus or its complications, only whether one’s health status was related to the disease.

“I’m looking at health reports and lab-confirmed reports,” she said. “If a person has underlying health conditions, COVID will exacerbate that.”

In the PAHD service area, the single-day number of cases reported have not exceeded 30 since Oct. 19, when approximately 52 were counted. (Cases over the weekend are typically included in Monday reports.) There were 30 reported Monday, keeping the 14-day average slightly above 15.

Aftermaths of recent hurricanes and other significant weather events locally have not played a big role in the number of COVID-19 cases, Smith said, but she stated quarantining is a little harder among families when people are not wearing masks at home.

“When people are getting tested, those who wore masks are not being infected,” she said. “It’s another indication that masks work.”

The coronavirus pandemic has reached its eighth month, and Smith says the virus is more contagious and more community-spread than the H1N1 (swine flu) virus in 2009. A vaccine was made available by November of that year, Smith said.

“There’s nothing outside of a vaccine proven to contain COVID-19,” Smith said. “This is on a whole different level of contagious. Not everybody is on the same level as far as wearing masks.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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