• January 25, 2021

Odessa American: City Of Odessa

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City Of Odessa

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Positive tests following first live council meeting

Odessa City Councilman Steve Thompson and City Attorney Natasha Brooks have tested positive for COVID-19 following council’s January 5 in-person work session meeting - it’s first live meeting since switching to virtual meetings last summer.Despite that knowledge, city officials did not alert citizens who attended the six-hour work session that they may have been exposed to the virus. Council then held another in-person council meeting this past Tuesday where it was visibly clear that safety distance guidelines and precautions were not being followed.“I began feeling sick after the work session,” Thompson said on Wednesday. “At first I thought I had a sinus infection, but as the week went on, I felt worse.”Thompson said he tested positive for the coronavirus this past Monday and immediately notified City Manager Michael Marrero.“I contacted the city manager and asked him to inform Mayor (Javier) Joven also,” Thompson. “I put the matter in their hands.”Thompson said Marrero told him Brooks had also tested COVID positive on Friday and promised he would inform council. Brooks could not be reached for comment. She attended the January 5 work session and spent more than 90 minutes in closed session with council that day.Marrero, who oversees the city’s day-to-day operations, and Joven, did not respond to phone calls or text messages seeking comment.Joven earlier this year said he had requested that council resume live, in-person meetings because it would be a better opportunity for council members to get to know each other.Councilwomen Detra White and Mari Willis confirmed Marrero contacted them and other council members on Monday.White and Willis, who wore face coverings during the January 5 and 12 meetings, said they were both concerned about getting COVID – especially since Joven and the other four council members sporadically wore face coverings at the first January meeting.“Yes, I’m concerned,” said White said, who sat next to Council members Denise Swanner and Tom Sprawls. “But I’m not planning to get tested unless I begin to notice symptoms.”“Rest assured I am following CDC guidelines concerning this issue to keep myself and those with whom I interact safe,” Willis said. Willis did not say whether she has or planned to get tested.Mayor Joven, Thompson, Swanner, Matta and Sprawls wore masks sporadically throughout the January 5 work session, which was attended by more than 100 people including residents and city employees. At least 12 people in attendance also did not wear face coverings. The January 5 meeting was held at the Marriott Conference Center.A city council-approved face covering mandate is currently in effect in Odessa. The ordinance requires customers and employees to wear coverings inside businesses, or face stiff fines.Ironically, the council discussed rescinded the face mask mandate during the January 4 work session. A majority of council – Joven, Matta, Swanner and Sprawls – expressed support for repealing the ordinance, but requested more local COVID-19 data before taking a vote on the issue.Swanner, Matta and Sprawls did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.Devin Sanchez, the city’s director of communications, announced Thursday after The Odessa American's story was posted on the Internet, that council's Jan. 19 work session will be a virtual meeting. Whether future meetings will be held in person or virtually will be decided on a weekly basis for the immediate future, Sanchez added.Approximately 60 residents and city employees attended the January 12 council meeting, which was held in the much smaller Commons area at First Odessa Church. All council members wore face coverings during that meeting, which Thompson and Brooks did not attend. At least three residents, who sat near the front of the room did not wear face coverings.The audience were seated in chairs that were spaced less than three feet apart – much closer than CDC guidelines which recommend at least six feet of separation.The city also laid out a large, self-serve buffet-style spread of food and refreshments, where attendees served themselves using the same utensils, or used their hands to snatch cookies and other snacks piled on plates and in bowls. No hand sanitizer was readily available near the serving area.Medical Center Hospital President and CEO Russell Tippin, who attended the meeting, also noted that CDC guidelines were not being followed. He pointed out that people were seated to close to each other, some did not wear face coverings and the buffet-style refreshment setting was a recipe for a COVID outbreak."The State has given us guidelines to help us," Tippin said on Thursday. "Masks are key. If one person is wearing a mask it doesn't help. Everyone has to wear one."Tippin and Odessa Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Rohith Saravanan said if the city or other institutions are going to resume in-person meetings, safety precautions must be strictly followed."There's a safe way to conduct meetings," Saravanan said. "That has to include social distancing and masks, otherwise it can become unsafe."It’s unlikely that Thompson contracted the coronavirus during the January 5 work session. According to the CDC some people with COVID-19 show no symptoms for up to five days after contracting the virus, but may appear as soon as 2 days or up to 14 days after exposure. People who contract COVID can be infectious for 10 to 20 days depending on the severeness of their illness.Sanchez, the city’s director of communications, ignored questions about who set up Tuesday’s meeting room arrangements or if any other city officials have tested positive for COVID-19 since January 5.

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