As the COVID-19 death toll in Texas reached 60,000 in early September, marking another grim milestone, Victoria County had just experienced its deadliest month of the pandemic in August.
Forty-eight Victoria County residents deaths were attributed to COVID-19 that month, according to data collected by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The next deadliest month was in September 2020, when 44 residents died because of the virus. In September, there were 39 COVID-19 deaths in the county, making it the third deadliest month.
Despite the existence of vaccines, said David Gonzales, the countys public health director, the death rate this summer was comparable to last summer.
However, the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been in unvaccinated people, he said. And the delta variant, which accounts for more than 90% of new cases in the county and country, is both more contagious and severe than the earlier variants that were spreading last summer.
Hopefully, now that we have a combination of built immunity within folks, as well as the vaccine, we wont see another spike this holiday season, said Gonzales. Thats really what were trying to look ahead to. Theres a lot of unknowns with that piece, and hopefully, we wont get into the situation we had last year.
The Victoria Mortuary and Cremation Services was serving upward of 150 customers a month at the end of this summer, said owner Adrian Fulton. Thats still lower than the numbers they were doing at the beginning of the year. At that time, they served nearly 200 customers one month and had roughly a monthslong backlog, he said.
A normal month sees 80-100 customers, he said.
His company also provides cremation services for many of the areas funeral homes and is averaging around three to four cremations a day right now, he said.
Isaias Vega, manager of Heavens Gate Funeral Home in downtown Victoria, said theyve also seen a higher number of customers in the past few months as compared to this time last year. Last year they averaged around 20 customers a month, while this year theyve served roughly 35 customers a month, he said.
Manager Isaias Vega stands for a portrait inside the casket selection room Thursday at Heavens Gate Funeral Home in Victoria.
Local funeral homes like Heavens Gate as well as Victoria Mortuary and Cremation Services often provide burial services for people who died outside of Victoria County.
Various local funeral homes have reported difficulties with ordering caskets or urns, including prolonged shipping times and higher costs.
Our urns have been an issue. The company we deal with, theyre backlogged right now. Theyve been back ordered for months, said Fulton. Previously, an urn would take roughly three days to arrive, now its closer to four weeks or longer.
Vega said that while they have never failed to secure a casket for any of their customers, their customers will often have to go with their third or fourth choice, as many are out of stock.
Have we been stuck-stuck? No. Thank God. But weve had obstacles like this, where youre real adamant about one, but were not able to get it for you, said Vega.
The cost of wood has also gone up nearly 300%, said Fulton. Bodies are required to be inside a casket or combustible container before being put into a cremator, and Fulton tries to keep around 100 containers in stock. Hell order a new shipment when his stock approaches 60, usually every three months or so.
A family room inside of Heaven's Gate Funeral Home in Victoria.
A shipment of 60 containers previously cost him around $700. That cost has now more than doubled to about $2,000, he said. Hes had to pass many of these costs on to his customers.
In April, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began offering reimbursement funding for funeral expenses of those whose death certificate lists COVID-19 as the cause of death. The financial assistance is available for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.
COVID-19 cases in the area have been dropping over the past month, according to state data. Gonzales said most projections right now really only go through the fall, but they do show cases will continue to decrease, which has been accurate so far.
Obviously, any time folks are getting together its a concern, he said. But Halloween is not as big a concern as the holidays Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years when the weather is different and more folks are inside together.
But right now its hard to tell what the winter holiday season will look like this year, he said.
Were trying to project ahead and look ahead at where we might be in January again, but we just dont know, said Gonzales. Theres so many unknowns right now. Were hopeful, but we wish we could project ahead.
Cat writes about Victoria's city and county government. Questions, tips, or ideas? Let me know email@example.com or (361) 580-6511
More Victorians died of COVID-19 in August than any other point in the pandemic - Victoria Advocate
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