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STEPHEN HEMELT — Return to normal after COVID could be a battle of wills

There is nothing we want more than a “return to normal” from this COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, it seems for every step we make back into the old ways of doing things, reality and restriction greet us and we are again forced back into social distancing and protective bubbles.

My wife and I have two children who attend separate public schools in the region. We elected to send them to school on campus this academic year, feeling the benefits of in-person learning and social interaction outweighed the very real concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Children in each of their schools have come down with COVID-19 in the few short weeks of this school year, leading to numerous robo calls from the schools announcing the exposures and letters sent home for us to read about the threat level.

At least initially, there was a fear in our school communities about testing, reporting and how up-to-date any professional can be on this issue.

It’s good to see the state is finally addressing those concerns.

My congratulations and best of best wishes goes out to Bob Hope School in Port Arthur, tabbed this week by the governor, Texas Education Agency and the state’s Division of Emergency Management to participate in a COVID-19 Rapid Testing Pilot Program.

Students, who receive permission from parents, along with teachers and staff will receive COVID-19 rapid antigen tests that produce reliable results within 15 minutes.

This seemingly would cut down on the time infected individuals expose themselves to others in the school environment. Less exposure means reduced new cases and a better chance of an uninterrupted school year.

“This rapid testing pilot program will be an effective strategy to protect the health and safety of students and staff while helping to further ensure that Texas students have access to a quality education throughout the pandemic and beyond,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

The need for the program in the first place solidifies the risk our children face at their school environments, which are smaller versions of what we all encounter in our everyday working environments.

Abbott’s announcement came on Wednesday. Less than two days later Abbott was announcing the Department of State Health Services and the Texas Division of Emergency Management were surging medical personnel, medical supplies and personal protective equipment to the Panhandle and South Plains because of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The reinforcements are supposed to help these communities care for patients and contain the spread of this virus.

The deployment includes 271 medical personnel, 100 IV pumps, 56 ventilators and 25 oxygen concentrators. There is nothing about those numbers that sound promising.

Locally in a 10-day period between Oct. 6 and Oct. 15, eight residents died in Mid-County and Port Arthur with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Health officials noted in each incident the victim was dealing with underlying health issues, further exemplifying this disease’s dangers to the elderly or unhealthy.

What we have here is a global enemy that shows no signs of giving up, leaving our own determination and risk-aversions as our chief lines of defense.

City after city can cancel events and restrain crowds from gathering, but I fear there will be a point when the populace stops listening and returns to “normal” with or without government blessings.

The question remains. Does the disease or the community have more staying power?

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.