Ector County will no longer share local COVID-19 data with the public because county officials claim they don’t have the resources to keep the public informed, County Health Authority Dr. Babatunde Jinadu said Tuesday.
Jinadu made his comments as other local health officials noted during Tuesday’s virtual press conference that COVID-19 cases have spiked again this week to alarmingly high rates, which could prompt the state to impose a new round of restrictions in Ector County.
Jinadu defended the county’s decision, by pointing out that the county health department has had to reduce its staff from 15 to 6 people as of Dec. 29 due to lack of funding.
“It’s just a matter of time and resources and we just don’t have the resources,” Jinadu said. “Up to Dec. 29 we had the resources and we were able to stay updated.”
However, local media pointed out before and after the news conference that the county was frequently the target of public criticism throughout 2020 for its inconsistency in releasing local COVID data. Often the county failed to update their website for several weeks, even with a larger staff.
This past fall, the county “donated” more than $700,000 in CARES funds earmarked for COVID, to various local non-profit organizations. As of press time Tuesday it was unclear why that funding wasn’t saved to continue paying contact tracers and workers to update daily numbers.
Jinadu said the county is required to report local COVID numbers to the state once per week, but the state has also been inconsistent in updating its information. The state’s COVID-19 information website as of Tuesday hadn’t been updated since Dec. 29.
Jinadu said keeping the public informed isn’t the county’s current top priority. The top priority is getting people vaccinated.
“The numbers are a priority to the extent that we can get the resources to manage and input the numbers,” Jinadu said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services announced this week that Ector and Midland counties would not be receiving any new vaccine shipments this week.
Medical Center Hospital President and CEO Russell Tippin said MCH and Odessa Regional Medical Center officials are working together to see how they can establish Ector and Midland counties as a hub. The current nearest hub is in Lubbock.
ORMC Chief Medical Officer Rohith Saravanan said COVID cases locally have been increasing this week, which he attributed to a post-Christmas holiday spike.
Sarvanan on Tuesday cautioned that on Sunday and Monday coronavirus patients were again accounting for more than 15 percent of hospital beds in Ector County. The state considers anything over the 15 percent threshold as cause for alarm and if that number remains over 15 percent for seven consecutive days can prompt state-imposed sanctions such as limiting business occupancy rates or mandating that all residents and employees must wear masks inside businesses.
On Sunday, the county’s hospital bed rate was 16.22 percent and 15.6 percent on Monday before dipping to 12.6 on Tuesday, Saravanan said.
Sunday was the first time since mid-December that the county had topped 15 percent, Saravanan said.
In November, former Mayor David Turner and council passed an ordinance that limited business capacity to 50 percent, which also included a face covering mandate. After four weeks rates shrunk to just under 15 percent, which prompted council to cancel the 50 percent capacity, but kept the face covering mandate in effect.
On Tuesday MCH reported 78 COVID patients at the hospital, with 22 in critical care and 13 on ventilators. ORMC reported 26 COVID patients, 16 in critical care and 3 on ventilators.