April 23, 2020

Remote County in Texas Northern Tip Cracks Down
with Mask Order as State Leader in Virus Strike Rates

By Mike Hailey

The tiny Texas Panhandle town of Cactus has become the latest hot spot in the coronavirus rampage with an outbreak at a meat processing plant that appeared to see it coming when it stocked up on protective gear and gave employees a surprise pay boost earlier this week.

The rapid surge of COVID-19 at the JBS beef processing facility propelled Moore County to the top of the Texas leader board in the coronavirus confirmed cases count when gauged in the comparative context of population size.

With Cactus perched on the northern edge, Moore County could be the most sparsely populated place in the nation with a mask order in effect as a consequence of the coronavirus rampage across the Lone Star State.

Washington County has the distinction of being the second-highest ranked Texas location in the coronavirus tally on a per-capita basis with one person infected for every 461 residents there. A nursing home in State Senator Lois Kolkhorst's hometown of Brenham has been identified as the epicenter of the alarming virus numbers in Washington County which is almost twice the size of Moore.

Kolkhorst - one of the most powerful lawmakers in Texas as the Senate Health & Human Services Committee chair - has launched a full-scale press for emergency intervention by the state and stronger standards at facilities for the elderly.

Nacogdoches County has had a dispassionately high rate of coronavirus cases as well with a ranking of fourth in the Texas per-capita count. One of every 669 Nacogdoches County residents have tested positive for the virus - a rate that's twice the statewide average. A significant share of the coronavirus cases in the East Texas county have been attributed to a nursing home there.

Officials in the Moore County seat of Dumas imposed the face-covering requirement on Wednesday about the time that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was blasting a new mask mandate in the Houston area as the ultimate example of government overreach. Patrick had been directing his wrath at the Democratic county judge in Harris who imposed the face masking directive in a coordinated move with a former Democratic state lawmaker who's the Houston mayor now.

But Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades is a Republican whose mask order is substantially more restrictive with a vow to pursue misdemeanor charges with a potential $1,000 fine against any who's caught in public with an uncovered face. Moore took the additional step of imposing a 10 p.m. curfew in the county he leads with a population of less than 21,000.

JBS - the company that owns the meat packing plant that the coronavirus has staggered in the Panhandle - had reaped praise just three days ago for a decision to start paying employees four dollars more an hour with a promise of protective equipment to protect them against possible exposure. JBS is the largest beef and pork processor in the United States and Canada.

While Lubbock County ranks first among the state's 20 largest counties in both per-capita virus infections and deaths, the fatality rates have been higher in both Washington and Nacogdoches based on an ongoing Capitol Inside analysis of the spread of the disease from place to place in Texas.

The alarming rates of COVID-19 infections in some rural locations have dispelled initial warnings about the virus a more dangerous threat in the parts of the state where the most people live like the Houston, Dallas-Fort, San Antonio and Austin areas. Harris, Dallas and Travis counties near the bottom of the pack in terms of per-capita coronavirus case rates in counties where the odds of infections have been one in less than 1,000.

Moore County has reported one positive case for every 162 people who lived there when census estimates put the population there at less than 21,000 last summer. One coronavirus case has been logged in Moore County for every 128 people who reside in Cactus about 13 miles north of Dumas.



1 Case and Death Per Number of Residents
Ranked by Per Capita Cases April 23
  COUNTY Cases Rate Deaths Rate
  Texas 21,774 1,332 569 50,959
1 Moore
129 136 2 10,470
2 Washington
76 461 8 4,380
3 Lubbock
470 649 39 7,826
4 Nacogdoches
98 669 9 7,287
5 Galveston
491 682 21 15,954
6 Potter
174 692 4 30,011
7 Taylor
185 737 3 45,430
8 Fort Bend
870 879 28 43,490
9 Harris
5,211 893 80 58,612
10 Laredo
302 910 12 22,900
11 Dallas
2,683 976 65 40,279
12 Travis
1,263 979 125 53,490


1 Case and Death Per Number of Residents
Ranked by Per Capita Cases April 21
  COUNTY Pop Cases Rate Deaths Rate
  Texas   20,267 1,431 528 54,916
1 Lubbock Area
11 445 886 36 8,475
2 Bryan-College Station
13 173 1,288 16 13,927
3 Beaumont--Port Arthur
9 254 1,349 10 34,134
4 Temple-Belton-Killeen
8 219 1,930 4 105,686
5 Midland-Odessa
10 124 2,598 7 46,019
6 San Antonio Area
3 1,959 1,150 45 46,657
7 DFW Area
Collin, Denton
2 4,903 1,113 129 50,220
8 Houston Area
Harris-Fort Bend
1 6,970 959 125 53,490
9 Austin Area
Travis - Hays
4 1,458 1,364 31 64,153
10 El Paso Area
El Paso
6 540 1,556 9 93,379
11 Rio Grande Valley
5 578 2,220 10 128,438
12 Waco Area
12 77 3,263 4 62,814
13 Corpus Christi
Nueces--San Patricio
7 98 4,371 1 428,436


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