Category Archives: Coronavirus

COVID-19 Testing Slows Down For Multiple Reasons In Nueces County

Local public health officials confirmed on Monday that some testing for Coronavirus has fallen a little off because of a lack of testing supplies. But that isn’t the only reason. At least one other factor is in play—ten area nursing homes with Coronavirus outbreaks that by state order will now require complete testing.

While a lack of testing supplies is complicated matter of filing paperwork and asking—along with maybe seeking the help of local state officials, that problem could be handled rather easily. Even with the amount of testing that is being done, Texas Department of Emergency Management logistics managers say that crews are working around the clock to rapidly distribute testing supplies. Each night, cargo planes land at Air Force Bases and larger airports bringing in more federal resources. The bigger problem lies with the nursing homes.

When an outbreak occurs at a nursing home or similar long-term care facility, rules require that testing be conducted on staff and residents. Over the course of the next few days more than 2,000 staff and residents will have to be mass tested. That takes two things: testing supplies and people.

At least a few times Monday evening cargo shipments of supplies arrived in Nueces County. Officials with the Department of State Health Services says that surge teams are on the way to help. Sunday afternoon, federal and state resources began arriving at area airports and warehouses. By Monday evening, some of those resources had already been deployed to area nursing homes and hospitals.

City Manager Peter Zanoni made an announcement on Monday saying that the previously planned testing at the Concrete Street Amphitheater was canceled due to the nursing home sure and the outbreak at the Corpus Christi State Living Center.

Testing has not completely stopped in Nueces County and it is actually still going strong, despite some local reports.

DSHS and The Texas Department of Emergency Management both confirm that resources are available and that supplies are being dispatched and distributed on a regular basis—even to Nueces County. The only hiccup is the long-term care facilities each time they have a breakout. That in itself will somewhat slow public testing, but protecting the most vulnerable is what’s most important.

Are We Making A Big Mistake By Keeping The Beaches Open? Locals Will Go Regardless and Out-of-Towners Are Coming

Matt Pierce Briscoe

It was pretty much made clear at a joint city of Corpus Christi/Nueces Country press conference on Monday that Nueces Country beaches would remain open for the upcoming holiday weekend despite the ongoing and increasingly concerning rise in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, not far to our south, Cameron County announced Monday that effective at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 30, all County Parks and County Beach access area will be closed.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. ordered the closure of county parks and beach access areas until 12:01 a.m. on July 13.

Why is that you say? Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni had an answer to the question. 

“They said they’re not going close the beaches,” Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said. “We can’t close them if they don’t let us close them.” 

But that statement seems to pass the blame towards the state, even though Governor Abbott maintained that beaches were not the primary cause of the problem. Many disagree and while there are die-hard beach goers who would argue that closing the beaches for public health and safety is violating their rights, the rules of government do seem to allow plenty of flexibility for city and county officials to make that tough call. 

Local officials say that they can’t stop people from coming to the beach. Even though Independence Day weekend crowds mirror Memorial Day, the city and county seem to favoring business profits and tax revenue over public health. They can encourage people to be safe, they say.

But beyond that local officials do in fact have a way to limit both local and out-of-town beach traffic at restaurants, grocery stores and others places that holiday seekers tend to frequent—they can close the beaches and parks.

The Texas General Land Office has insisted that the agency is giving local government officials the flexibility to do what they need to do in order to keep their communities safe. Sources at the General Land Office Monday night confirmed that.

Cameron County, which instituted a beach and park closure on Monday tallied 2,281 cumulative cases on Monday. That’s only 161 cases more than right here in Nueces County, which is seeing the highest per capita increase in COVID-19 cases anywhere in the state. 

Like Nueces County, Galveston County is risking lives for money and keeping their beaches open even though the Texas General Land Office is working with local officials to give them the flexibility that they need. That doesn’t sit well with some folks. 

“They know damn good and well if you keep the beaches open people from San Antonio and the Hill Country will come,” says Corpus Christi resident Michael Cantu. “I mean you have enough people here willing to ignore the rules and go out there.” 

Cantu isn’t wrong. Robert and Patricia Curnow who live in the Boerne area say that they plan on coming to Corpus Christi because so much of the river activity in the Hill Country is restricted or shutdown due to COVID-19. 

“We will be there,” Patricia said on Monday. “If you ain’t scared then we ain’t either.” 

They aren’t alone. Blake Collins is a San Antonio College student who studies at UTSA. He said that originally he and a group of about 18 friends had planned to go tubing the Frio near Concan, but with the closure of tubing operators and heavy restriction and closures on many county parks in the Hill Country, they are coming to the last bastion of recreation—Nueces County.

“You people got balls,” Collins said. “Don’t close the beaches! We have a chance for Spring Break Part Two. This thing doesn’t scare me or anybody that I know.” 

They already have an Air BnB booked for 6 days on North Padre. 

The popular internet site that Collins and his friends booked their short-term rental through actually showed limited short term availability for the days of July 2-5. So did the alternative site VRBO. As it is currently, there is no restriction on short-term rentals or hotels in place like there once had been.

The city of Corpus Christi began lifting restrictions on short-term rentals that had once been in place to help initially slow the spread. However on April 28, short-term rentals were once again allowed to take reservations from out-of-town visitors—and they still are. 

But there lies the part of the problem. Local officials trusted in the community as Governor Abbott reopened the state. What seems like to be “back in the day,” County Judge Barbara Canales had this stern warning and wishful thinking.

“We are going to have to take on more personal responsibility,” she said. “I know we can do it. We know how important it is for our economy to survive. It is incumbent for us to take this seriously.” 

That didn’t happen. 

At that very same press conference Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said this: 

“If the numbers don’t make an upturn, we will expand to fifty percent capacity in two weeks,” he said. “If the numbers go in the wrong direction, well, we don’t want to get back into another order. You’ve been wonderful so far. We continue to request your participation in staying safe.”

Again, that didn’t happen and many area residents just carried on like everything was just like it was before—safe, sound and healthy. And there was another part of the problem. 

Corpus Christi and Nueces County have found themselves in more than just a political and social pickle. People without a doubt do not want to be restricted, but just like a hurricane or tropical storm, it sometimes just has to be done for public health and safety. On Monday it seemed like local government officials were still hanging onto the Governor’s philosophy of “as we do more testing the number will increase.” But just like Gov. Abbott recently admitted on television stations across the state—he made a mistake and he recognizes it.

There isn’t much doubt that locals and holiday seekers alike will be crowding Corpus Christi area beaches over the upcoming holiday weekend. Beyond that the number of COVID-19 cases will very likely rise again along with the death rate—just like it did before. Then, the ultimate question will remain: who will bear that burden of knowing that more may could have been done and they chose not to do it?

That might end up falling on all of us one way or another.

Corpus Christi Athletic Club Reports At Least Three Positive Cases Of COVID-19 Over The Past Week

The popular Corpus Christi Athletic Club has reported at least three cases of COVID-19 at that facility within the past week.

In a letter sent to members and staff officials there advised that there had been two additional employees of the club test positive for COVId-19 and that the club was in the process of conducting contact tracing.

The letter also said that the club was in the process of arranging for testing of all employees who have already been tested.

On Friday, the letter says that all members who are over the age of 10 years-old will be required to wear a mask once inside the facility.

Governor Abbott has not made it clear if gyms and recreational sporting activities will once again be restricted under new measures. However, some groups are urging the Governor to take that step as cases around the state continue to rise.

Duval County Reports 20 Cases Of Coronavirus

Officials in Duval County confirmed on social media Monday morning that they are now reporting 20 new cases of coronavirus in that county.

The highest concentration of cases appears to be zip code 78384 which has a total of nine active cases. That area encompasses the county seat of San Diego and parts of the rural area.

The second highest concentrated area around Duval county would be the area around Benavides and zip code 78341. They are reporting 6 cases, with 5 being active. Other zip codes impacted are the Freer and Seven Sisters area which has 4 total cases, with one active.

The area around the community of Conception has reported one case over time, but none are reported active there at the moment.

46 Cases Of Coronavirus Reported At Corpus Christi State Living Center

State Senator Chuy Hinojosa confirmed on Monday that there have been 46 total cases of coronavirus reported at the Corpus Christi State Living Center, which houses some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Of those cases, 22 of the infected persons are residents of the facility and another 24 are staff members.

Senator Hinojosa confirmed that some of the cases were reported over the weekend and that the Department of State Health Services and other agencies have been notified about the outbreak.

“We have notified the DSHS and others about this,” Senator Hinojosa said Monday morning via phone. “We are doing our best to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

At least one resident has been hospitalized from the facility and has not returned as of yet.

Sources at the Corpus Christi State Living Center say that they have now been prohibited from wearing cloth masks and that there are limited supplies of disposable masks there at the living center.

Indications are that at least some officials had been made aware of the cases last week but the information was released publicly until Monday morning when State Senator Hinojosa confirmed that information to The Southside Light.

This is a developing story.

The Story vs. The Narrative: How Bad Is The Coronavirus Situation In Nueces County? We May Never Know Unless There Is More Transparency

Matt Pierce-Briscoe

The spread of coronavirus infections has taken a “swift and very dangerous turn” in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has warned on Sunday in Dallas. 

“Over just the past few weeks, the daily number of cases have gone from an average of about 2,000, to more than 5,000 a day,” he said. 

Here in Nueces County the daily new infection rate was 188 new cases, but that number is likely incomplete and results that are expected to be released early this week will likely be much higher. 

Just as the other major population centers in Texas, Corpus Christi has recorded a surge in cases after lockdown. The number of reported infections in Nueces county sit just below 2,000. Locally, seven have died. 

The spike has led officials in Texas and other states to tighten restrictions on business again, with warnings that hospitals may soon be overwhelmed.

On Sunday, Gov. Abbott said that as many as 5,000 people a day were being admitted to hospital for treatment. Vice-President Mike Pence said that Texas would be issued additional Covid-19 testing kits for as long was necessary. “We are going to make sure that Texas, and your healthcare system in Texas, have the resources, have the supplies, have the personnel to meet this moment.” 

The vice-president also urged Texans to wear masks “wherever it’s indicated”, saying “we know from experience, it will slow the spread of the coronavirus.”

In Nueces County, there is an order in place that would have citizens wear masks when in some places, but only make it a strong recommendation in others. Some worry that the local response is not going far enough. 

It was almost as if local government officials here in Nueces County were buying into the state backed notion that everything was going fine. Local testing rates were among the lowest in the state, per capita and the overall infection rate was nearly unbelievable. At the peak of the first wave the number of infections ranked among the lowest in the state and the measures that were in place seemed to be working. But this week public officials and researchers called this wave a “tsunami.” 

Employees with the city claim that internal conversations lent toward the suggestion that there could be as many as 500 new cases per day in Nueces County alone in the coming weeks. While that’s number might seem high, that number is a reality. 

Why Nueces County is in much worse shape than you think.

These were statements made by the Health Department Director, City Manager and TAMUCC researchers in the last week.

This week local officials also confirmed that it takes a week sometimes to get the results of tests back from public health labs. We also learned that some public testing locations like the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation are booked for testing through July 15th.

Not all hospitals or urgent care centers are using the rapid test except in certain cases. 

“We’re projecting 750 new cases a day sometime next week,” is what one city official told us this week. That is what has them concerned and for good reason. 

Administrators from area hospitals seem to be sticking to their narrative that “all is well” when it comes to the local availability of hospital beds and staff. The problem is that the narrative being pushed by hospital officials doesn’t add up with the data. 

In a text message sent to Judge Canales, Mayor McComb, County Commissioners and City Council members, City Manager Peter Zanoni said: 

“The area has sufficient hospital beds and ventilators; however, we are in the process of getting additional nursing staff from the State Operations Center to manage the increased patient load.”

He also said that Monday there will be a strategic planning session for businesses and nursing homes that have positives. The Health Department will reaching out to all nursing homes with new protocols that they are putting in place for positive residents.

If hospital bed and staff availability is doing just fine, then why would there be a need to reach out to the state for more staff and supplies? This is where the narrative doesn’t fit the data. 

It is obvious that public health officials and crisis managers do not think that citizens of Corpus Christi cannot handle being told just how bad things really are here in Corpus Christi. 

On Sunday Health officials said that they had 80 patients recovering in the hospital. 18 of them were in the intensive care unit. According to administrators and managers that number is well within their capabilities. However, data reported from the state of Texas shows that the 11 county trauma services region that encompasses Nueces County had 10 available ICU beds and 308 available hospital beds. 

Statewide on Sunday overall hospital capacity was recorded at 77% capacity. Just like it was during the first wave of the pandemic response the question remains as to why it seems Corpus Christi would be the exception to the rule? Especially with the increased number of positive cases, increased hospitalizations and high number of medical staff reporting that they are out sick or awaiting testing. 

The answer is that as the public relations managers work overtime trying to control the narrative in an obvious attempt to keep public reaction at bay, the data is telling a totally different story and so are the people who are on the frontlines. 

On Sunday there was a flurry of activity with what appeared to be test kits, medical supplies and other response related materials arriving into Corpus Christi. Sunday afternoon saw boxes of testing supplies arriving by air and heading the Waves Resort complex where testing will be conducted this week. One pilot told us that it is a daily routine flying somewhere to deliver medical supplies and Corpus Christi is an “up and comer” on the list. 

“We are not in good shape here,” one nurse told us as she was leaving Christus Spohn Hospital Shoreline on Saturday. “We aren’t supposed to talk to you guys but I don’t think I am telling you anything that people don’t already know.” 

She said that there had been a rush to clear beds of lesser ill patients who might normally be given a choice to stay in the hospital or go home. She expects that if there is a sudden surge of patients there would have to be drastic changes. 

“I know 5 co-workers who are suffering from it today,” she said. “I just try not to think about it and just care for these folks. They deserve that.” 

Each year area hospitals take public money and something that the public deserves is an explanation of what they are doing to keep it. Some argue that Christus Health has never really been a truly viable community partner when it comes to public health. In fact, on Friday the state gave approval for construction of a multi-million dollar COVID-19 unit at the Memorial Hospital site. When it is all said and done, Christus stands to end up with a pretty attractive deal—at least as it was present a few months ago to Nueces County Commissioners. 

“One thing that you always notice is that they (Christus Health) is always on the look out for a way to sweeten the pot for themselves,” says Rolondo Sanchez, who isn’t thrilled about the move.”I was here in 1998, I believe it was when they started to come into the picture. The people of Corpus Christi were not overly thrilled about it then and most of us who live over here aren’t overly thrilled with them now.” 

By “over here,” Sanchez means the area around the former Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital. He says that it serves as a reminder that the lower income residents who call the area once had a place to get the best possible care. 

“It is a memorial alright,” he says. “A memorial to what we once had. I’m scared that if I get it (coronavirus) that I will be sent over there.” 

But the staff at area hospitals are the ones who are dealing with the problems and giving it all that they have. 

Another nurse that we spoke with on Saturday said that confusion is part of the problem. 

“The reason they aren’t talking to ya’ll and the reason they don’t want us talking to you is because things are still kind of messy right now,” she said. “I think we are waiting on more help to get here or something. We need it.” 

But not everybody who gets coronavirus ends up in the hospital. In fact, a fairly small percentage are—at least right now. However, County Judge Barbara Canales does kind of have an “I told you so” in order when it is all said and done. But that comes with a caveat—why did it seem like local officials let up the fight? Did they buy into Gov. Abbott’s now failed plan and become complacent in our success? 

Corpus Christi and Nueces County followed Abbott’s order perfectly when it came to the reopening of Texas. In fact, they even let up on holding their daily press briefings, which they will resume at 5 pm on Monday. Researchers showed that for the most part things were allowed to go back pretty much to normal before the new wave came pipelining ashore. But that data points the blame somewhere else—back at us for pretending that things were going to be just fine. 

The problem was that the narrative didn’t fit the story and that while things were looking like they were going to fine, the firestorm we see today was slowly taking its toll. But like with everything, some would have listened and others would have argued. 

But now that it is here for the second time, what happens when you wade through the red tape and finally do get a Covid-19 test and say it does come back positive? There is an answer for that, too. 

“We’re asking people who test positive to call their contacts and let them know they’ve had contact with an infected person and ask them to get tested,” officials said this past week. 

Isn’t that the job of contact tracers? It is—if Texas had enough of them. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Texas has somewhere around 3,500 contact tracers currently on the ground working around the state. With 5,000 new cases a day hitting the state’s record book that number doesn’t make sense either. 

“We are working on that,” a DSHS spokesperson said on Friday. “Don’t physically make contact with those that you have come into contact with, but you should let them know.” 

But then there is still the question about getting a test in the first place. 

Places like urgent care centers and hospitals can often get lab results back fairly quickly. However, the Health Department has to send tests to a state or state contracted lab for analysis and that takes time to get those results. 

Those who transport the specimens tell us that they make at least one flight per day. 

“Some of them are public tests and others are from private labs that need additional analysis,” said one of the transport pilots. “I don’t really think about it. It is just something that we do.” 

On Sunday, Civil Air Patrol flights were active around the state in what contacts there confirm as support missions for the boots on the ground. 

They say that they are excited to be called into help. 

Also on Sunday, a military transport plane flew into Corpus Christi with what appeared to be supplies for testing. Southside Light News has a team of investigative reporters who routinely monitor local air traffic. Records show that this flight was both unscheduled, non-routine and did not file a flight plan. However, further investigation revealed that the plane originated from possibly North or South Carolina. 

Testing is expected to be conducted throughout the area this week. The next drive-thru test collection conducted by the city/county health officials will be at the Concrete Street Amphitheater located at 700 Concrete Street on Tuesday. Another major testing location is scheduled to be conducted at Waves Resort on North Padre Island on Tuesday, as well.

New Local Covid-19 Data Shows Significant Increases As The State Sets A New Hospitalization Record

Nueces County reported some 228 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday with a total of 81 persons said to be recovering in the hospital. Of the patients recovering in area hospitals, the official count lists 18 as being in the ICU.

While officials say that they believe there is sufficient hospital beds and ventilators in our county, they did say that they were in the process of securing additional nursing staff from the State Operations Center to help “manage the increased patient load.”

The city/county will host another drive-thru test collection operation on Tuesday at the Concrete Street Amphitheater, located at 700 Concrete Street in Corpus Christi.

Officials also said that there would be a strategic planning meeting on Monday for businesses and nursing homes that have positive cases. The Health Department said that they will also be reaching out to nursing homes with new protocols that they are putting in place for residents who test positive for the virus.

Also on Saturday, sources confirmed that there are at least two nursing homes in Corpus Christi that are experiencing outbreaks. The outbreaks are among both staff and residents at the facilities.

Healthcare workers in the area said that they are also experiencing issues with high numbers of regular staff either being furloughed, out sick, or awaiting test results.

This news comes on a day when the State of Texas reported 5,747 new cases and 42 new deaths. Across the state, daily hospitalizations went up 421 to 5, 523.

The state also set a new record as far as hospital capacity. According to the Department of State Health Services the Hospital Capacity Usage Rate has significantly increased to 78% statewide. The Texas Medical Center is reporting that they are at or near 100% and are in the process of enacting surge protocols.

While the local numbers are concerning and do lead to major questions about staffing and actual capacity, the overall state numbers are sending a message that Texas in a real jam and officials say that they are working to get a handle on the situation as best as they can.

Abbott Announces Significant Changes To Reopening Of Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order Friday to close bars at 12 p.m. Friday. The order also limits restaurants to 50% capacity starting Monday in order to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.

“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action,” Gov. Abbott said in a statement. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”

Any establishment that receives more than 51% of its sales from alcohol must close their doors, but they can remain open for take-out and delivery.

Starting Monday, restaurants can remain open, but have to scale back capacity to 50%.

Rafting and tubing businesses must also close, and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must get approval from local governments.

“We want this to be as limited in duration as possible,” Gov. Abbott said. “However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part. Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can.”

Restaurants and bar owners said that they have been caught off guard by the order on Friday, though there had been heavy indications that Gov. Abbott would make this move.

This is a developing story.

Developing: Christus Spohn Shoreline Reported To Be Near Overall Capacity

As we have been reporting all week long, sources at Christus Spohn Shoreline are reporting that the hospital is nearing overall capacity and that County Judge Barbara Canales has been asked to develop a so-called “surge plan” in the event that overall capacity would be reached.

Officials with Christus Spohn have not outwardly confirmed that information, but as we reported to you on Monday, sources at the Department of State Health Services advised us then that the hospital was likely in serious trouble of reaching their capacity limits. On Thursday, staff that work inside the hospital confirmed the DSHS reports.

Christus Spohn has been providing questionable data since the onset of the pandemic and has earned their fair share of public scrutiny when it comes to transparency with the public, county and state officials. Earlier on Thursday, we sent out an email requesting a status check on bed availability. That email went unanswered. However, around noon calls began coming in that there were concerns about the capacity level here locally.

Earlier in the day, sources at DSHS maintained that Nueces County had only been spared from the Governor’s order to suspend elective procedures after what they said was “incomplete” or “missing data” from Nueces County.

We have reached out to other hospitals in Corpus Christi to check on their status and those requests have also gone unanswered.

While there are only 41 patients currently hospitalized in Corpus Christi with coronavirus, healthcare workers say that it is the overall capacity that they are worried about as the virus seemed to have taken the entire state off guard.

On Thursday evening, the Health Department confirmed 259 new cases of the novel coronavirus here in our community. That’s umber increased today from 215 on Wednesday. The state of Texas broke another record for daily cases at 5,995 new cases statewide.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout.

Governor Abbott Announces Temporary Pause In Reopening Plan

On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the State of Texas will put a pause on further planned phases to reopen Texas. This move comes as the state responds to the recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Gov. Abbott said that businesses that are permitted to open under the previous phases can continue to operate at the designated occupancy levels and under the minimum standard health protocols provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The announcement comes as Abbott ceased elective procedures in the state’s most populated counties. Abbott also warned Texans about a possible “massive” COVID-19 outbreak.

“As we experience an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” said Governor Abbott. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business. I ask all Texans to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly, and socially distancing from others. The more that we all follow these guidelines, the safer our state will be and the more we can open up Texas for business.”

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