Leaders urge caution as spring break approaches

Leaders urge caution as spring break approaches

One year ago, Matagorda County Commissioners were closing off the county’s beaches in order to curb the COVID-19 pandemic that was just starting to take center stage on the country’s horizons.

This year, Matagorda County Commissioner Kent Pollard heralded this coming Saturday, March 13 as the kickoff for Spring break in the county.

“We welcome everyone to our beaches in Sargent and Matagorda. We just ask everyone to behave themselves and remind everyone that no glass bottles are allowed on the beaches,” Pollard said.

Pollard also pointed out that Matagorda will host a Surf and Turf Festival Saturday as well.

Matagorda County Sheriff Frank Osborne said his department will have double patrols on the beaches during Spring break as well as county constables will also work at patrolling the county beaches as well.

The announcement comes on the heels of Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to end the mandatory mask mandate and comes when Matagorda County saw its positive new COVID-19 cases shrink down to just 295 new lab-confirmed cases for the month of February.

The positive cases figure is down from January when Matagorda County was averaging 17.3 new positive cases a day.

Back in July of last year, Matagorda County reported 482 new cases. At 491 new COVID-19 cases, January 2021 set a new all-time high in Matagorda County by beating out July 2020’s 482 new case total.

“It appears that we’re seeing another decline. I won’t speculate on particular reasons since the downward trend is in line with previous downward trends following a new wave. My working assumption, until presented with better data, is that there is often a catalyst which allows us to predict a surge event, such as holidays, peak gathering times, etc., but the downward side generally seems to be more time-based or cyclical than attributable to a specific event. We can all test that theory during spring break and then again at the start of the summer vacation season since all of the DSHS raw data are accessible on our website,” said Aaron Fox, chief business development officer and public information officer for the Matagorda County Hospital District.

But Fox said the area might not see a big spike in positive COVID numbers as a result of the Spring Breakers hitting the county beaches.

Generally speaking, a major gathering event is a great indicator that another spike in cases is likely 6 to 14 days away, which translates to a spike in reported cases in 9 to 17 days. It’s a little different this time though because people are already out and about with work, family, and church, and many of the children have already been in school to some degree. While there’s certainly a greater chance of disparate groups gathering during Spring Break and passing around COVID-19, our natural preference for in-group socializing even in crowds may work in our favor and reduce the chances of a statistically significant increase in newly reported cases,” Fox said.

Fox said since the general public has been practicing safety practices for the past year, this might not be the super spreader event that some areas are predicting with large Spring break crowds.

“We’ve been practicing COVID-19 safety for a year now, so I’m confident that most Texans are competent, capable, and willing to celebrate Spring break safely. Those who disagree may want to pre-plan with smaller groups and physical distancing in mind while they take a much-needed break. The most important thing is that both groups respectfully acknowledge and make reasonable accommodations for the other group’s preferences,” Fox said.

What might be different in this coming month’s battle with COVID-19 are the new strains that are starting to make their appearance in Matagorda County. The variant is known as B.1.1.7 and was first seen in the United Kingdom, where is quickly spread and now has been found in several U.S. states including California, Colorado and Texas.

A week ago, Fox pointed out that some local samples were sent out for further testing to see if the variant strain had made it to Matagorda County.

I don’t think anyone should be surprised if they learn that new strains of COVID-19 are circulating in our region,” Fox said.

The Centers for Disease Control believes Spring breakers must use caution this year when celebrating the week at the area beaches.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spring break travel recommendation is simple and clear: Stay home to keep yourself and others safe.

The CDC is recommending that people do not travel at this time and delay spring break travel until 2022. It should be noted that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still at high levels across the United States and that traveling may spread the new COVID-19 variants faster.

For those who have been vaccinated, the CDC is recommending to avoid travel to decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19 to others.

Fox said if visitors to county beaches just remember everything that has been taught in the past year, Spring Break might not be that big of an issue in the long run.

“Follow safety guidelines, stay with the group you came with, respect each other’s boundaries, and have a blast,” Fox said.

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