Another Shutdown of San Angelo Looms
SAN ANGELO, TX — Friday morning, Mayor Brenda Gunter proclaimed her strongest admonishment of San Angeloans, since the pandemic shutdown began March 20 to wear a mask, wash hands, and social distance.
The exploding COVID-19 positive case counts in Tom Green County are the issue. With the number of cases exceeding 200 for four of the past seven days and all but one day, Sunday, reporting less than 100 cases, the mayor expressed her concern about community spread. Community spread is caused by the transmission of the virus during large gatherings, particularly in residential settings — house parties at a home, for example.
As the number of active cases increase, the number of hospitalizations also increase. Controlling hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients is the key to keeping bars and restaurants open.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is forcing county judges to shut down bars and restaurants if the number of hospitalizations of patients infected by COVID-19 exceed 15 percent of the hospital capacity in specific Trauma Service Areas. TSAs are defined by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services and San Angelo is the hub of TSA K that extends from Crockett County in the west to Mason County in the east and from Sutton County down south to Coke County up north.
The percentage of COVID-19-infected patients throughout TSA K reaching 15 percent ties Judge Steve Floyd’s hands, removing his authority to prevent Local Health Authority Dr. James Vretis from shutting down restaurants and bars while denying organizers to hold large public gatherings like Christmas parades and concerts anywhere in Tom Green County. Previously, Judge Floyd explained that Vretis’ authority extends from the State and the governor, not through him or the Sheriff of Tom Green County David Jones.
San Angelo’s TSA K sits at 9.04 percent as of the report to the state yesterday, Nov. 12. It has hovered around the 10 percent mark for the past seven days even as case counts skyrocketed. Statistics are provided daily on the Texas HHS website.
Floyd said businesses may need backup. At the commissioners’ court meeting next Tuesday, he will introduce a plan to create a social distancing compliance team comprised of off-duty law enforcement officers. The money to pay the hourly wages for this special force will come from a federal grant, he said. If a business or event organizer is having trouble enforcing social distancing and masking, Floyd intends this new compliance force to provide needed backup.
Floyd was reluctant to explain what the consequences were for not complying with his compliance officers. He did say that being jailed for non-compliance was off the table because the governor stopped county judges from jailing citizens for non-compliance after the dust-up involving Dallas salon owner Shelly Luther who was jailed for reopening her hair salon against the governor’s orders. When asked about fines, Judge Floyd said he didn’t want to fine anyone either and didn’t know what the fine would be if he did. Others in the leadership team mentioned a $200 fine, though the exact amount was not confirmed at the press conference.
At San Angelo ISD, Superintendent Carl Dethloff said the schools are being impacted by COVID-19, particularly with teacher absences. This afternoon, San Angelo ISD sent out a press release advertising to hire more substitute teachers. San Angelo ISD will also begin remote learning for its grades 9-12 on Fridays for the remainder of this grading period to free up substitutes to work in middle and elementary schools. Dethloff said the campuses with younger pupils need to remain open because those students not in school causes child care problems for working parents.
Angelo State University President Ronnie Hawkins said his challenges — and infections — mirror the San Angelo ISD at less than 2 percent of the student and faculty population. He added that ASU has canceled every public gathering event for the remainder of the semester, to include a traditional graduation. Instead, graduates will receive their diplomas singularly in a video ceremony at the Junell Center in December.
The Goodfellow Air Force Base is classroom instruction for intelligence and firefighting positions throughout the Department of Defense. 17 TRW Commander Col. Andres R. Nazario said while the DoD will not allow him to discuss specifics, his base is impacted similarly and warned that his mission could be impacted too if the skyrocketing case count continued upward.
The current status is that closings are not going to happen as long as the COVID-19 hospitalization rate for TSA K remains below 15 percent. The underlying force that impacts the hospitalizations are the daily case counts, officials warned. TSA K has consistently reported to the state that it contains 564 hospital beds, although that number can change based upon the area’s ability to staff them. In general, Judge Floyd said, anyone can guess the number of hospitalizations that equals 15 percent. Of 564 beds, 15 percent is 85 COVID-19 patients.
In the report released Friday, Nov. 13, right after the press conference, the city-county health department reported 63 are currently hospitalized, down 4 from yesterday.