WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) – It’s been four months since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency. In that time, more than 90,000 Americans have died. The nation is in the midst of the largest global recession since the Great Depression and the efforts to stop the spread of the virus have caused political, cultural, and social implications. KFDX and Texoma’s Fox produced a 30-minute special program, entitled Texoma Strong: Fighting COVID-19, dedicated to how the virus has shaped the lives of those living in Texoma.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED?
There are more than 40,000 coronavirus cases in the state of Texas and it began March 5 with the first positive case in Fort Bend County, outside of Houston. Ten days later, the state would see it’s first COVID-19 death.
On March 18, Wichita County saw its first positive case, involving a 64-year-old patient who returned from overseas. The next day, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order, directing all restaurants to close their dining rooms and bars to close. It’s a move that had a devastating impact on small business owners and their employees who were without a job.
The increase in cases also caused Wichita Falls ISD and nearly all Texoma schools to lengthen their Spring Break. Students haven’t been back to the classroom since the governor canceled school for the remainder of the year. Now graduation will take place with social distancing and mask requirements.
COVID-19 hit Sheppard Air Force Base on March 25 when an airman tested positive for the virus.
Since then, the base has adjusted protocols to limit and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Tragedy struck Texoma on April 2 with the area’s first COVID-19 death in Stephens County. Thirteen days later on April 15, Wichita County would see its first fatality, involving a patient in their 70s with an underlying health condition. The second coronavirus death was confirmed on April 18. Right now, there are more than 80 coronavirus cases in Wichita County.
However, even in this time of uncertainty, the community saw several acts of kindness through neighborhood parades, drive-thru rooms, and even a Spirit of Texoma flyover by Sheppard Air Force Base.
SHOULD WE EXPECT MORE CASES?
The Wichita Falls-Wichita County Public Health District has been preparing for the virus since December 2019 when the World Health Organization started releasing information about the virus.
Lou Kreidler, director of health, and Amy Fagan, assistant director of health, have been on the frontlines, focusing on transparency and providing up-to-date information to the community.
So what will happen when or if a vaccine becomes available? Has Wichita County reached its peak of cases?
During Texoma Strong: Fighting COVID-19, Kreidler and Fagan answered those questions.
HOW DID LEADERS REACT?
During this pandemic, our lives and livelihoods have rest in the hands of elected officials as they navigated with medical experts on how to stop the spread of the virus. During the Texoma Strong: Fighting COVID-19 special, Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom and Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana rated their leadership during this pandemic and what financial ramifications of the virus on county and city budgets.
Leaders in Wichita County and Wichita Falls began taking action in mid-March, issuing disaster declarations that would be modified over the course of weeks and months as the spread of the virus continued.
Leaders in Wichita Falls and Wichita County made a controversial decision on April 24 to allow non-essential businesses to reopen at their discretion. The Wichita Falls Live Safe-Work Safe Order also required masks or other face coverings to be worn when inside of a business or public transportation. Both rulings contradicted the governor’s executive order, causing a backlash from residents, state leaders, and the governor himself.
Two days later, the governor would make the city-county order obsolete when Abbott announced his phased reopening plans for the state. Starting May 1, restaurants, malls, movie theaters and all other retail in the Lone Star State were cleared to get back to business with limited capacity. The reopening process continued on May 8 with barbershops and nail and half salons. Gyms and tattoo shops were allowed to open up on May 18. Bars will open on May 22.
WHAT’S THE POTENTIAL EFFECT ON THE LOCAL ECONOMY?
Since the coronavirus outbreak hit, the world has been in uncharted waters.
More than two million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits. Stay-at-home orders and quarantine had small business owners struggling to keep doors open.
Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO Henry Florsheim has been an advocate for local business owners during this pandemic. Florsheim also commented on the recent cancellation of the in-person Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred ride, which brings millions of dollars into the local economy every year.
During this time, Florsheim has used his platform to provide daily updates on social media. He’s also keeping his finger on the pulse through a weekly interview series with city leaders. There will be a guest on the show each week to discuss current events and allow viewers an inside view on their lives and businesses in Texoma.
The Pulse airs on the Texoma’s Homepage Facebook page every Wednesday at 3 p.m. and every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on Texoma’s Fox.
SHOULD I WEAR A MASK?
In the final segment of Texoma Strong: Battling COVID-19, MSU medical director Dr. Keith Wiliamson answered your coronavirus-related questions, including the drug Remdesivir, a possible vaccine rollout and how to properly wear a mask.
If anyone has questions and concerns regarding COVID-19 in Wichita County, click below to submit them to the health department via e-mail.