The editorial that follows is the official view of THE EXAMINER.
Don J. Dodd, Publisher and CEO
At this week’s meeting of the Beaumont City Council, Dr. Qamar Arfeen and Dr. Nicole Hancock heroically came to the rescue of our community, spending valuable hours away from their duties taking care of COVID patients at the Baptist Beaumont Hospital.
They attended the council meeting to educate a largely ill-informed council on the life and death struggle taking place, pleading with council to “help us help Beaumont,” warning in no uncertain terms that this is the worst possible time to start opening facilities for large gatherings.
On June 23, with a reported 28 COVID patients in ICU and another 32 in general hospital beds, Beaumont City Council voted unanimously to open closed city event facilities like the hundreds-strong capacity Civic Center, Event Centre and Julie Rogers and Jefferson theaters on July 31. Prior to that vote, the mayor and council agreed an opening date would be contingent on orders from the governor and the evaluation of the community’s real-time COVID issues.
Flying in the face of escalating COVID numbers, on July 21 – led by Mike Getz – Taylor Neild, W.L. Pate, and Randy Feldschau voted 4 to 3 to move forward with an end-of-the-month opening. Getz insisted personal responsibility should rule and it is a basic First Amendment right to assemble in large groups at community centers during a global pandemic – comparing a drunken wedding reception to going to church.
The local medical community tasked with an ever-increasing demand for hospital care was outraged. Medical professionals reached out to council members, warning they were making a decision that in all likelihood would cost lives. Councilman Feldschau heeded their advice and recognized that he had acted without all the information needed. “I cannot turn a deaf ear to the medical personnel of our community,” Feldschau rightly coined as he delivered the deciding vote to keep the mass gathering facilities shuttered until further notice.
With a hospitalization count on Tuesday of 46 COVID patients in ICU and 108 in general hospital beds, the plea of the medical community and the presentation by Arfeen and Hancock, Beaumont City Council had all the information they needed to make the right decision for the good of our community as a whole.
Baptist COVID response lead Dr. Arfeen patiently fielded challenges to the information from Getz, Neild and Pate, carefully explaining again and again the challenges to Southeast Texas’ health care system – a laundry list of issues the local hospitals are facing – worker fatigue, exhausted supplies and dwindling space, to name a few. “God forbid if this thing gets any worse,” he said. “It will be a disaster.”
“Life has to go on,” Getz retorted, with no regard for the irony in that, for 46 Beaumonters who lost the fight to COVID-19, life will do no such thing.
Mayor Becky Ames and council members Audwin Samuel and Robin Mouton maintained their stance to keep the city’s mass gathering facilities closed, and, coupled with Feldschau’s decision to heed expert advise, the health and well-being of our community prevailed.
Why would anyone so staunchly defy the expertise of the lead physician dealing with the COVID crisis? Maybe further investigation is warranted as to what plans had scheduled in August at Beaumont Event Centre.
After the votes were cast, Getz let his inflated ego overpower good judgment, so he took his losing vote to the low road, adding insult to injury for Facebook fodder. Pate, who spewed ridiculous numbers and make-believe statistics at the meeting, took his over-rehearsed babble home for guidance on his next campaign move. Neild, who seems like he does want to do the right thing, missed an opportunity to exhibit true independence from Getz and do the right thing without fear.
This spectacle was not a clash of ideas, rather a petty and childish tantrum of those with uninformed or coerced positions that, save for the change of one vote, possibly posed a death sentence for that one-too-many patient that couldn’t gain hospital admittance due to mass infection from mass gatherings taking place at Beaumont-funded facilities.