City of Amarillo officials provided more details on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) role in the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the city, as well as in Moore County, during Monday’s COVID-19 news conference.
The city announced Saturday this measure taken by the CDC was a result of the meatpacking industry in the area, including the Tyson Plant in the Amarillo area and the JBS Swift Plant in Moore County, being deemed hotspots for the virus.
In the COVID-19 report card, released by the city of Amarillo’s public health department Monday afternoon, there are a total of 1,011 active cases of the virus in Potter and Randall counties, an increase of 65 cases from Sunday. There are 787 active cases in Potter County and 224 in Randall County.
Combined with the 149 total recoveries and the 12 deaths, there have been 1,172 reported COVID-19 cases in both Potter and Randall Counties. A total of 5,214 conducted tests for the virus which have been reported to the public health department, 411 of which are currently pending.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there are a total of 399 reported cases of the virus in Moore County, the location of the JBS plant. There have been six reported deaths related to COVID-19 in the county.
City of Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said the aid brought from the state and the federal level will bring additional testing to the area. She expects the area to see an increase of positive cases due to the increased number of tests given.
“Our numbers are going to continue to go up, Amarillo,” she said. “But that’s good, in that it’s giving us information about who has the virus and do more contact investigations and just have better information about how it is spreading through our community.”
Casie Stoughton, the city’s public health director, said her team is looking forward to working with the CDC as well as the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in the coming days.
City of Amarillo manager Jared Miller said the city has space for the CDC at both the Tri-State Fairgrounds, where the city’s mobile testing site is currently located, as well as the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. The city will be working out the details with the CDC Monday.
Nelson said plans will start to be formed as the federal and state teams arrive and begin to assess the situation.
One of the items Nelson identified that needed assistance was the transportation of individuals from Potter and Randall County who work at the JBS Swift Plant in Cactus. Employees travel to the plant on busses from the Walmart, located at the intersection of Georgia St. and I-27.
During the April 24 news conference, city officials spoke about this matter and how it is affecting the community spread of the virus in Potter and Randall Counties.
“Transportation is one of the issues that we specifically identified… with the CDC and DSHS,” Nelson said during Monday’s conference. “That is an issue we are asking for their help on. The way their current system is, it crosses jurisdictional lines, so it is difficult for us, without the help of the state really stepping in, to address that.”
Stoughton reiterated during the meeting that 41 percent of positive cases of the virus are related to meatpacking plants throughout the area, including employees from the plants themselves as well as their contacts.
Miller said transportation will still continue, due to the number of individuals who work at the plant who reside in Potter and Randall Counties. The manner of the transportation or the volume of available transportation assets, could change based on the recommendations from the CDC.
“We noted the challenge to (the CDC),” Miller said. “They did not respond with what specific measures they took regarding transportation in… Colorado, or South Dakota, or Nebraska or the other places where there have been plant closures. They did reference that they have a number of methods that they used in those places that contributed to their ability to reopen. They want to put those into practice, the ones that are appropriate, so we can avoid any closures in our area. But we don’t know the specific measures they took.”
District 13 Congressman Mac Thornberry released a statement Monday on his thoughts about the federal resources being sent to communities in the Texas Panhandle during the pandemic.
“I am very grateful to Vice President Pence and the administration’s Coronavirus Task Force for seeing that additional expertise and resources are available to the Texas Panhandle,” Thornberry said. “As with other sectors in our economy, these difficult times present special challenges involved in seeing that America continues to benefit from the world’s safest, most abundant food supply. At every level, we look forward to working with the CDC and other experts to see that our people are safe and that they can continue to carry out their essential work.”
Nelson said the city will continue to let the public know about what changes the state and federal government are making to help address the pandemic in the community. Nelson believes these individuals need to continue working to maintain the United States’ food supply.
“We need some assistance in strategizing the safest way to do that, both for our community and for those workers,” Nelson said. “…(Our) request for help from DSHS and the CDC is directly related to the numbers we have here in Amarillo and our desire to make sure those people get the treatment and that the rest of our community gets the supplies we need to keep our community safe.”
Scott Milton, the city’s public health authority and an assistant professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo, said while the hospitals remain busy due to the pandemic, things are continuing to run smoothly.
“I think it’s fair to say that the capacity for ventilator use is still about 50 percent,” he said. “I don’t have all the specific numbers available this morning. They are continuing to test quite a bit.”
Stoughton said ventilators were on the list of items requested from the state last week due to the current situation at the hospitals.
Nelson said in her conversations with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, he mentioned this request specifically.
“The governor assured me that we would have all the ventilators we need,” she said.
The next COVID-19 news conference will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday.