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Testing again a challenge as omicron concerns send patients to Longview-area ERs
  • Updated

Local health officials are looking for other ways to offer COVID-19 testing as the recent omicron variant has swamped Longview-area hospitals with residents who want to know if they have the virus.

Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne on Wednesday said half of the people who are presenting in the county to determine if they have COVID-19 are getting a positive result, and he said many are going to hospitals to find out.

According to Browne, Gregg County’s two hospitals are again reaching high patient levels due to people visiting ERs to get tested. He said Longview Regional Medical Center has surged with patients who are seeking COVID-19 tests.

“They’re basically full, which means elective surgery and stuff is now at a very critical situation,” Browne said.

Essentially, if a person was to require emergency medical assistance or had an elective surgery and got admitted into the hospital, “that’s going to be a very hard thing to do,” Browne said. However, he said people do not seem to be getting as sick with omicron as they did with other variants.

He added that the biggest recent challenge is finding a place to get tested without having to use an ER.

According to Browne, many residents turn to ERs and similar facilities to get tested for COVID-19. This has resulted in hospitals overflowing with patients who are primarily seeking COVID-related services.

Browne said he has been in communication with the Northeast Texas Public Health District to try to determine other ways to offer testing without having to go to the ER or emergency clinic. He also said testing methods have become difficult to obtain because of a shortage of materials.

Christus Good Shepherd is offering drive-thru testing 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at its NorthPark facility on East Hawkins Parkway in Longview.

Browne also made a plea to people who have decided not to get vaccinated to “really seriously consider it” along with advising those who have been vaccinated to get their booster six months later.

The high number of COVID-19 tests also has been a problem in other parts of the state. Dr. Ralph Riviello, the chair of emergency medicine at University Hospital in San Antonio, said the number of people who arrive seeking a test has grown so much lately that the ER now has a nurse provider designated to screen and evaluate patients with COVID-like symptoms, according to the Texas Tribune.

The hospital staff helps whoever arrives, but Riviello said the health care system does not have the bandwidth to serve as a walk-in COVID-19 testing center.

“That burden puts stress on the system, on that emergency department. Those patients will take up space and rooms that they may not need,” he told the Tribune. “And then that delays the care of another patient.”

Pharmacies’ supply of rapid antigen tests also has been drained, and appointment availability at testing centers has been limited.

In Austin, the city health department has asked residents to stop calling 911 for testing information. Other emergency rooms across the state are also reporting a jump in testing requests, prompting hospitals to ask Texans to stop visiting the ER for COVID-19 tests, the Tribune reported. Riviello encourages those experiencing mild symptoms to stay home if they cannot acquire a test.

CVS and Walgreens pharmacies have instituted a limit on testing products in stores and online to increase access for more people. A Walgreens spokesperson said the pharmacy was working with its lab partners to expand testing capacities.

In response to the high demand for tests, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will open six testing sites in Texas as early as next week. The sites will be in Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hidalgo and Tarrant counties. The new testing locations received preliminary approval Monday after Gov. Greg Abbott requested additional federal resources to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

State health data shows the positivity rate in the state — or the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — has reached a record high, with about 1 in 3 Texans testing positive for the virus. The number of hospitalizations has more than doubled over the past two weeks.


Education
centerpiece
World champion teaches disc golf to Spring Hill students
  • Updated

Spring Hill Intermediate School students received a lesson Thursday from a champion in a sport that “everyone can do.”

A classroom of about 43 fifth-graders took part in a lesson by 2018 Professional Disc Golf world champion Gregg Barsby.

The students then put their skills to the test at Panther Stadium, where the played in groups of five led by Barsby.

Chris Peurifoy, a coach at Spring Hill Intermediate, is an active disc golfer. He said he enjoys it so much that he wanted to bring it to his students.

“My family and I play a lot of disc golf, and last year I wrote a grant through the PTA at Spring Hill ... for all of the disc golf stuff. I wanted to bring something I really enjoyed playing outside of school to our students here in P.E.,” he said.

Peurifoy said he has encountered Barsby during several tournaments and decided to reach out to ask him to visit in order to get students interested in the sport.

Barsby, who lives in Tyler, has been playing for 19 years.

He said the sport is getting bigger and enjoys coming to schools in East Texas to shine a light on the game he loves.

“The sport is getting a lot bigger. The disc pro tour is in full swing, and there’s tournament coverage on ESPN2 now,” he said. “The game is very easy to get into. There’s a lot of local parks here, Hinsley Park and Guthrie Park, that have disc golf. And the sport is relatively inexpensive to get started. Everyone can do it. It’s a family sport.”

As students played Thursday, Barsby rotated among groups and cheered them on as they attempted to land the disc inside the basket.

“I just try to bring a positive attitude and bring a fun-loving attitude when I work with the kids. I think that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to make this my job. It feels really special.”

Peurifoy compares disc golf with regular golf but instead with a disc or a frisbee. Players attend to throw the disc into a basket with the fewest number of throws.

He said the reaction of the students playing disc golf has been amazing, and he’s excited for them to learn the different things the sport teaches.

“It teaches fair play, to get outside, to cheer each other on whenever they do great things. It helps them know how better their body works as far as the mechanics, and we talked about science and how the wind plays a factor in physics,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that the game helps kids with and just getting outside instead of being on video games all the time.

“It’s a game that anybody can play. You don’t have to be necessarily strong or tall, big or whatever. No matter your size, you can play disc golf. They’ve truly really loved playing.”

Kinsley Cox, 11, said the playing disc golf Thursday was “awesome” adding that the experience with Barsby was “very cool”.

“I wasn’t expecting that. It’s really cool to have him here,” Kinsley said. “I’ve learned how to hold the disc correctly and how to hold it with the nose down.”

Disc golf fans can keep up with Barsby at the upcoming Disc Golf 2022 Pro Tour for the Texas State Championship at greggbarsby.com.


Coronavirus
New COVID-19 cases in Gregg County more than double; active cases up 110%
  • Updated

New cases of COVID-19 in Gregg County more than doubled in three days as the number of active cases in the county increased by more than 110%, according to Thursday data from the Northeast Public Health District.

Active cases of the virus jumped from 581 active cases as reported Monday to 1,225 on Thursday. About a month ago, NET Health reported 136 active cases in Gregg County.

About 925 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Gregg County this week — more than double the 435 new cases reported in December.

In November, 121 new cases were reported in Gregg County compared with 723 and 4,099 in October and September, respectively.

Thursday’s data from NET Health show 674 new cases — 265 confirmed and 409 probable — reported since Monday when 251 new cases were reported.

NET Health defines probable cases as those attributed to patients who have received positive antigen tests until the individual has been administered a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. If a person’s PCR laboratory result is positive, that becomes a confirmed case.

Gregg County’s community transmission rate has more than doubled since a week ago and is at a “substantial” rate of 51.29 compared to with 22.36 as reported Dec. 30.

A substantial rate means large-scale, uncontrolled community transmission of the virus in places such as grocery stores, schools, churches, workplaces, nursing homes, daycares and other congregate settings, according to NET Health.

As of Thursday, all seven counties in NET Health’s jurisdiction have reached “substantial” transmission levels, with Smith County posting the highest rate of 115.20.

Substantial seven-day rolling rates are measured on a level of 35 or more, compared with moderate measured at a level of 10 to 35 and minimal at a level of zero to 10.

According to NET Health, the rate calculates the average number of all COVID-positive cases from the previous seven days. That answer is then divided by the population of the county, multiplied by 100,000, and that final number equals the rate.

On Thursday, there were 213 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state’s 19-county Trauma Region G. Of patients hospitalized, 43 of those are in ICUs and 13 patients are on ventilators. In the first half of September, hospitalizations reached 822, the highest number of single-day COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region since the pandemic began. Similar trends were last seen in late October.

As of Thursday in Gregg County, 54.85% of people age 5 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 47.96% of people age 5 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state. State data shows 88.38% of people 65 and older in the county had been vaccinated with at least one dose on Thursday, while 80.89% of that population had been fully vaccinated. As of Nov. 4, children 5 to 11 years of age are included in vaccination numbers and rates.

No Gregg County jail inmates have an active diagnosis of COVID-19, and one inmate has died due to COVID-19 since Monday’s report, according to NET Health.

Just two weeks ago, Gregg County reached a minimal spread level for the first time since earlier this month. As of Dec. 28, all counties had reached moderate spread.

Smith County had 1,255 new cases — 678 confirmed, 577 probable — reported since Monday, according to NET Health. There are 2,862 total active cases within the county, compared with 1,691 as reported Monday.


Nation
Biden decries Trump backers' 'dagger at throat' of democracy
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden accused Donald Trump and his supporters of holding a “dagger at the throat of democracy” in a forceful speech Thursday marking the anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Biden’s criticism was blistering of Trump, whom he blamed for the assault that has fundamentally changed Congress and the nation and raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.

“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “You can’t love your country only when you win.”

His voice booming at times, filling the ornate Statuary Hall where rioters had laid siege, the president called on Americans to remember what they saw Jan. 6, 2021, with their own eyes: the mob attacking police, breaking windows, gallows erected outside threatening to hang the vice president — all while Trump sat at the White House watching it on TV.

“The former president’s supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection and the riot that took place here on January 6 as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.”

The president’s remarks launched the start of daylong remembrance, drawing a contrast between the truth of what happened and the false narratives that persist about the Capitol assault, including the continued refusal by many Republicans to affirm that Biden won the 2020 election.

“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie,” Biden said. “The former president of the United States of America has spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.”

He said: “We are in a battle for the soul of America.”

“I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year from today. But I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of this democracy.”

Republican leaders and lawmakers largely stayed away from the day’s events, dismissing them as overly politicized — some continuing to spread false claims about the election.

From Florida, Trump showed no signs of letting go, and in fact revived his attack on the elections. He accepted no responsibility for egging on the crowd that day.

Instead, in one of several statements Thursday, he said Biden was trying to “further divide America. This political theater is all just a distraction.”

Even among congressional Republicans who condemned the attack in the days afterward, most have stayed loyal to the former president.

“What brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Others, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, were absent, with a contingent attending the funeral for a former colleague Sen. Johnny Isakson in Georgia. Far-right Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz stood by their refusal to certify Biden’s election that day — “We’re ashamed of nothing,” Gaetz said on a podcast.

The division is a stark reminder of the rupture between the two parties, worsening since hundreds of Trump’s supporters pushed past police, used their fists and flagpoles to break through the windows of the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory.

Rep. Liz Cheney, chair of the House committee investigating the attack and one of the few GOP lawmakers attending the Capitol ceremonies, warned that “the threat continues.” Trump, she said, “continues to make the same claims that he knows caused violence on January 6.”

“Unfortunately, too many in my own party are embracing the former president, are looking the other way or minimizing the danger,” she told NBC’s “Today.” “That’s how democracies die. We simply cannot let that happen.”

She was joined by her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president and now a respected Republican Party elder, who was greeted warmly by several Democrats. He stood with her, the only Republicans seen, for a moment of silence on the House floor.

He said in a statement: “I am deeply disappointed at the failure of many members of my party to recognize the grave nature of the January 6 attacks and the ongoing threat to our nation.”

The Senate also convened a moment of silence.

Democrats investigating the riot plan to spend the coming months telling the American people exactly what happened last Jan. 6 with a series of public hearings.

Biden and his administration have come under criticism from some in his party for not forcibly explaining to Americans the ways democracy is at risk, or pushing Congress hard enough to pass election and voting rights legislation that is stalled by a filibuster in the Senate.

Barack Obama, the former president, said “nothing is more important” on the anniversary than ensuring the right to vote.

“While the broken windows have been repaired and many of the rioters have been brought to justice, the truth is that our democracy is at greater risk today than it was back then,” Obama said in a statement.


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