Potter County, where Amarillo is located, has seen an outsized proportion of COVID-19 cases. Though the latest numbers show counties with most cases are also the most populous, Potter County ranks just below them at sixth even though it’s the 38th most populous county.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 at meatpacking facilities in the area are partly the reason for the high rate. At last count, there are nearly 2,200 postive cases of COVID-19 in the county, making it the second worst outbreak on a per capita basis in Texas. As a result, Gov. Greg Abbott did not include Potter County in the most recent phase of statewide reopenings.
Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner told Texas Standard’s Laura Rice that the rate of positive cases exploded at the meatpacking plant.
Twenty-four people have died in the county so far according to the most recent state data; 1,440 people have died statewide.
Some 4,000 plant employees have been tested for COVID-19, with 700 testing positive, Tanner said.
Help with testing has been dispatched in the form of a federal strike force and assistance from Gov. Abbott.
“[Abbott] said ‘We’re sending help,'” Tanner said. “That was on a Friday night, and so on Monday morning, they came in full force – CDC, the National Guard – and they started making everybody at the facility be tested.”
Tanner said Amarillo’s two major hospitals are doing “great,” with COVID-19 cases peaking two weeks ago.
“So far, the survival rate is 98%,” she said.
Potter County is not reopening on the same aggressive schedule Abbott has set for the rest of Texas. Tanner agreed with that decision, since COVID-19 cases are still high in the area. This week, she said the number of cases has begun to level off. Additionally, she said she didn’t want to put pressure on county employees who are also parents. School is out in Potter County, and day care providers won’t reopen until June 1.
Potter County’s own reopening order won’t take effect until June 1. Tanner said that could change if cases rise again, especially in the aftermath of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
“I’m so ready; if the numbers start spiking again, I’ll shut it down again,” Tanner said.
For Tanner, the coronavirus has been a “nightmare.” She has served as county judge for seven years; she’s worked for the county for 30 years.
“We’ve had floods, we’ve had fires. All those were bad,” she said. “Last year we had a cyberattack. I thought, What else could happen? That was the worst. And then this happened. And I gotta tell you, this is the worst thing that I’ve experienced for my county and for the people in my county.”
Web story by Shelly Brisbin.
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