Over 40 percent of Amarillo’s 940 total COVID-19 cases reported Friday – mostly in Potter County – are being attributed to meatpacking plants, prompting Amarillo’s mayor to ask for the state’s assistance, as the city’s total number of cases has risen drastically over the past few days.
Potter County has seen the biggest jump in cases – from 396 on Monday to 684 on Friday. Randall County reported 256 cases on Friday, up from 191 on Monday.
During a press conference Friday, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson – who lauded President Trump’s executive order issued earlier this week that categorizes meatpacking plants as essential - said she has requested additional testing supplies and testing capabilities from Gov. Greg Abbott and state health officials.
“Frankly, what we asked for is more than the entire state of Texas has access to and we know that, but we honestly evaluated what we need and we told the governor what we needed in order to fight this outbreak and to support the meatpacking industry,” Nelson said, adding that she pushed especially hard for test kits and additional mobile testing units. “What we need though are additional hands and additional tests to move into some of these hot spots, specific meat packing plants, in order to test all of their workers and get a feel for where the virus is in their population of employees.”
Nelson also asked the governor for additional contact investigators so that the spread of the virus can be better monitored.
“So with those additional hands, we'll be able to increase and stay on top of contact investigations and letting people know if they've been exposed and whether or not they need to go into quarantine to help protect the spread and slow the spread in the city,” she said.
While no specifics were provided during the press conference - neither names of the impacted meatpacking plants, nor the number of COVID-19 cases per plant - Casie Stoughton, public health director for the City of Amarillo, said they represent 41 percent of the city’s total number cases.
After referring to meatpacking plants as critical to the nation’s food supply, Nelson called on Amarillo residents to do their part in helping keep meatpacking employees safe, by staying home as much as possible.
“So it's a new form of citizenship and we're asking you and the citizens to step up by staying in so that we can support these critical workers as they don't, um, they really don't have a choice,” Nelson said. .
She also asked Amarillo residents to pray for meatpacking employees, healthcare workers, and business owners.
Stoughton added that people in Amarillo should continue to wearing masks when in public.
“My mask protects you and your mask protects me. It is important to wear masks anytime you're around others including the grocery store, work and any other places you may go right now,” Stoughton said. “It is critical to protect one another wearing a mask, washing your hands, staying home are the very best ways to do so.”
She also implored people not to go to work if they are sick or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
“Stay home unless you need to seek medical care. If you're experiencing symptoms of your chronic health conditions, please reach out to your physician,” Stoughton said.
Dr. Scott Milton, public health authority with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said that Amarillo is not really ready to open up, but Nelson said Amarillo is bound by Abbott’s looser restrictions, which calls for the state to reopen.
“He's taken it out of our hands locally so we can't add any restrictions and we can't (ask) to loosen any restrictions other than what's in his order,” Nelson said.
Abbott’s order, in effect through May 15, allows as of Friday, restaurants, retail outlets, movie theaters and shopping malls to reopen at 25 percent capacity.
When asked if a spike in cases is expected with the partial reopening Friday, Nelson said it is a legitimate concern and that people should continue to practice social distancing and minimize the size of gatherings, also outlined in the governor’s order.
“And so, you know, while we can't, as a city, issue a shelter in place order - because the governor has taken that out of our hands - his order does give clear guidance that he still wants us, when we can, to be separated from people,” Nelson said. “But however you're choosing to do that, the intent behind that is that we would not gather because every time we gather, every time we interact with each other, our risk goes up for spreading the disease, both from me to you and you to me.”
A second phase of the state’s reopening plan, which will allow for the reopening of additional businesses - are expected in the next couple of weeks.
If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, call the Amarillo Health Department at 806-378-6300.