The COVID-19 outbreak is spreading faster in Nueces County than anywhere else in virus-stricken Texas, spurring officials there to impose a curfew and ban vehicles on popular beaches.
“Unfortunately, we are the county with the highest number of new cases per 100,000 people per day,” said Peter Zanoni, City Manager of Corpus Christi, in a public briefing this week.
The coastal region with around 362,000 inhabitants reported 605 new cases on Tuesday: the highest number to date. On Wednesday, the county reported 500 new cases of COVID-19, the second highest daily number.
A beachgoer watches as a Texas-themed kite flies over the beach in Port Aransas on Sunday. Vacationers claimed their places, set up their shade tents early in the morning and in the early afternoon the beach was well filled. Many hotels in the area have not posted location signs as the popular vacation spot is full even during the pandemic.
Bob Owen / San Antonio Express News
To curb the flow of visitors and contain the outbreak, the judge of Nueces County, Barbara Canales, issued an order from Thursday to ban vehicles on beaches. Nobody is allowed to sit on the sand from sunset to sunrise.
“All out-of-town visitors who come for day trips, short breaks, and just general summer fun need to stop,” Canales said. “It has to. Because with 600 cases a day it’s untenable. Those 600 cases become hospitalizations, part of them. They become intensive care units, and it pains me to say that, but they also become fatalities.”
The nationwide order extends through August 1st.
“We may have to close it longer,” said Zanoni. “We asked the state for permission to do this.”
Bobby Campbell of Brady, Texas moves his catch, an almost 8 pound black drum, as fishermen pack the shores along the Packery Channel on Mustang Island south of Port Aransas.
Bob Owen / San Antonio Express News
He added, “People can go to the beach, or run, or ride bikes, or fish, or swim, or sit in a chair or camp, as long as they can bring equipment to the Gulf beaches there. You just can’t drive on the beach. “
By that month, the virus had left the busy tourist destination relatively unscathed about 170 miles south of San Antonio.
From April to June, Nueces County recorded only eight COVID-19-related deaths. 62 people have died from the disease so far this month, placing the county second in the number of average daily deaths in Texas.
The animation shows the spread of COVID-19 in Texas from March to April. Video: San Antonio Express News
Day-trippers flocking from nearby counties to visit the beaches are likely to drive the wave, said David Parsons, manager of Port Aransas City.
“It’s like it’s the fourth of July every weekend,” he said.
Experts say the virus is much less likely to be transmitted outdoors. But trips to the beach are still risky, Parsons said.
“They pile up in the convenience gas stations,” he said. “It happens there. It’s not the beach. It’s in the Stripes Store, 7-11. It’s the fast food restaurants. It’s all of the preparation a family or group of people takes to get to the beach. “
Banning vehicles on beaches is an effective way to discourage visitors, Parsons added.
“It’s a great inconvenience,” he said. “Let’s say it cuts traffic by 50 percent. Every little bit helps. It’s a good medium. You’re not chopping off business by your knees. “
Canales had previously issued an order banning vehicles on beaches on the weekend of July 4th. That arrangement had a significant impact on visitors, Zanoni said, and reduced traffic on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway Bridge to about 4,000 vehicles in 12 hours.
On Memorial Day, however, 25,000 vehicles drove over the bridge within 12 hours.
Canales says targeted action is needed to blunt the worrying trajectory.
“Over time we’ve moved from the bottom up,” she said. “When you’re number one in Texas, it’s hard to find out where else is worse. I need people who pretend their life depends on it – because they do. “