Cases of COVID-19 are rapidly spreading in Gregg County, according to the latest public health data.
As of Monday, the county’s community transmission rate has moved into a “substantial” spread level, meaning cities across Gregg County are experiencing large-scale, uncontrolled community transmission of the virus in congregate settings, such as grocery stores, schools, workplaces, nursing homes and daycares.
The transmission rate increased by more than 206% since Thursday, from a seven-day rolling rate of new cases of 16.71 to 51.29 on Monday, statistics from the Northeast Texas Public Health District show. At the end of November, Gregg County had the second-lowest transmission rate in the district.
The rise comes as community transmission is reaching an “uncontrolled” level in multiple East Texas counties, according to NET Health.
Smith County on Thursday reached a substantial spread level. As of Monday, four more counties under NET Health’s seven-county jurisdiction also reached substantial community spread levels of COVID-19, as the remaining two counties in moderate spread continued to see higher rates of infection.
Substantial seven-day rolling rates are measured at a seven-day rolling rate of 35 or more, compared to moderate measured at a level of 10 to 35, and minimal at zero to 10.
Neighboring Smith County has the highest transmission rate in the district, now at a rate of 76.84 — a 98% increase from 38.66 Thursday. Gregg County’s transmission rate on Monday was the second-highest in the district.
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.
Additionally on Monday, NET Health reported 251 new COVID cases — 179 confirmed and 72 probable — in Gregg County since Thursday.
Gregg County’s active cases have increased by more than 76% since Thursday, NET Health data show — from 330 to 581. Of the 581 active cases, 290 are confirmed while 291 are probable.
According to NET Health, probable cases are 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.
On Dec. 22, an East Texas health official predicted a virus surge as omicron began to take hold of the nation. At the time, Dr. Tom Cummins, Division Chief Medical Officer for UT Health East Texas, said the rise in cases would be due to holiday travel and omicron circulating in Texas. He said a sharp, sudden rise in positive cases would be the first clue of the omicron variant present in East Texas, but assumed it was likely already prevalent in the area.
As of Dec. 21, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported omicron as the dominant COVID variant in the United States, after it was first detected in the nation on Dec. 1.
Cummins said on Monday he encourages the community to remain vigilant against COVID-19 and emphasized sticking to the basics to protect against the virus.
“The best strategy against omicron is, one, wear your mask when you go out, which is really not happening much in East Texas currently. I went to the grocery store on New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve and it was a little terrifying, the lack of masking,” Cummins said. “Masks still work. Social distancing still works. Vaccines, while not necessarily being effective in keeping you from getting omicron, certainly help diminish how sick you get.”
In November, Gregg County saw 121 total new COVID-positive cases. From Dec. 1 to Dec. 30, there were 435 new cases reported.
There have been 20,135 COVID-19 cases in Gregg County since the pandemic began, with 19,269 total recoveries, according to NET Health.
NET Health data show no Gregg County jail inmates had an active diagnosis of COVID-19 on Monday. There have been no virus-related jail deaths, according to the district.
In Gregg County, 54.68% of people age 5 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, while 47.86% of residents 5 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state. State data show 88.29% of people 65 and older had been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Monday, while 80.86% 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.
On Monday, there were 190 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state’s 19-county Trauma Region G, approximately 36 more than there were on Thursday. Of COVID patients hospitalized, 58 of those are in ICUs and 39 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.
Other countiesFollowing after Smith and Gregg counties, others in substantial spread levels on Monday included Van Zandt at a seven-day rolling rate of 45.94, Henderson at 38.50 and Wood at 37.64. Still in moderate spread levels, Anderson follows behind at 33.40 with Rains at the lowest rate in the district of 28.53.
■ In Smith County, NET Health reported 622 new cases — 372 confirmed and 250 probable — since Thursday. Data show 1,691 total active cases — 851 confirmed and 840 probable — total cases reported Monday.
■ Henderson County had 137 new cases — 104 confirmed, 33 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 332 total active cases within the county.
■ Van Zandt County had 92 new cases — 65 confirmed, 27 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 263 total active cases within the county.
■ Anderson County had 53 new cases — five confirmed, 48 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 222 total active cases within the county.
■ Wood County had 73 new cases — 59 confirmed, 14 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 192 total active cases within the county.
■ Rains County had 13 new cases — 10 confirmed, three probable — reported since Thursday and there were 30 total active cases within the county.
Total recoveries and total active cases include probable and confirmed data. Data gathered in Monday’s report represent noon Thursday to noon Monday.
A Longview company that restores and repairs vintage RVs will be featured on an episode of A&E’s TV series, “Shipping Wars.”
The television network sent a crew to Longview on Wednesday to film the episode, which will feature American RV Restoration. Located in the Spring Hill area of Longview, American RV Restoration has been refurbishing vintage travel trailers for about 15 years with owner Ethan Langley turning it into a full-time career about 3 years ago.
“Basically, we make dreams come true,” Langley said.
Langley was in the automotive business for 26 years, but he said he got tired of “doing the same thing over and over.” He picked up a 1960s model travel trailer in Utah for himself and his family and he restored it. When the family went camping in it for the first time, people approached him wanting to buy it.
“We knew we had something at that point,” he recalled.
He decided to turn it into a part-time business. He picks up travel trailers from across the country, restores them and then sells them. Three years ago, he and his wife Amanda decided to turn their part-time hobby into a full-time business as its popularity grew.
Today, American RV Restoration has a 15,000-square-foot warehouse located on five acres in Longview.
“We have seven businesses out of this one complex here and employ over 24 people here,” Langley said.
Through his businesses, Langley said he can restore pretty much “everything and anything.” That includes vintage furniture and playground equipment, such as old McDonald’s playground pieces. In the past, he’s remodeled a 1970s VW bus, a DeLorean (the famous car from the “Back to the Future” film franchise) and he’s recently remodeled an AMC Gremlin that is being delivered to San Francisco. He said he’s even restoring a Ford Mustang for one of the Dallas Cowboys.
“A lot of my clientele are 70 to 90 years old, and I like that because they know what they want. They are ready to live their dream and we make it happen for them. We make them happy.”
His business has gained attention nationwide, especially through social media. American RV Restoration is on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms. Langley said he hopes to bring more attention to the City of Longview through his work.
Langley said HGTV featured him in a segment in 2017 as he was a builder featured on a TV show about tiny houses.
“We have been coast-to-coast eight times this year — almost 80,000 miles — to make all these dreams come true as we pick up and deliver these vintage travel trailers all across the United States,” Langley said.
For A&E’s TV show, which began filming Wednesday, a film crew was bringing in a semi-truck to simulate picking up one of Langley’s restored travel trailers, he said.
“They are going to load it up and then take it to another state, deliver it to a buyer and film that,” Langley said. “Kind of what we do every single day — the experience, the magic. It’s so cool to see the expression and the excitement that these people have after waiting three to six months for these campers to be restored.”
While filming began Wednesday, Langley said he does not know when the episode of “Shipping Wars” will air. He said when HGTV came out in 2017 it took about three to four months for the episode to air.
But A&E isn’t the only network that will be featuring Langley and his business soon. He said Discovery Channel is visiting him in February and the Travel Channel is coming in June.
“We are bringing a lot of publicity to Longview and showing people how great this town is,” he said. “That’s what we need to do.”
It’s a question with no answer: Who could replace Van Craddock Jr. and the influence he had as a local historian and longtime local newspaper columnist and author?
Craddock, whose byline graced the pages of the Longview News-Journal for more than 40 years, died on New Year’s Eve after battling Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
“Of course, his loss as a local historian, as a grassroots historian is tremendous because who would take his place,” said Bill O’Neal, of Carthage, who served as Texas State Historian from 2012-2018. “Who else is a gifted writer and has the background and knowledge that he has?
“I don’t know how in the world he’d be replaced,” and he hasn’t been in the more than a year since he retired from writing his column, in September 2020, O’Neal said.
Craddock’s funeral service is at 11 a.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church in downtown Longview, with the Rev. Jay Jackson officiating. Visitation will follow in the church’s Cook Foyer.
People his life touched over the years remembered Craddock as more than a writer and historian, though. He was a “gracious gentleman,” O’Neal said. At First Methodist, the church Craddock attended with his wife of 51 years, Bettye, Jackson described him as “servant-hearted” and a “faithful Christian in the truest sense.”
It wasn’t just that he attended church, Jackson said. Craddock consistently served any way he could. He was once the church’s communications director and helped determine the direction of the church’s TV ministry, Jackson said.
The Craddocks also coordinated the Pioneer Fellowship for senior adults. The monthly lunch would draw as many as 100 people, Jackson said, and Craddock would serve as the master of ceremonies.
“He did this with the same kind of attention that he gave to his writing and to his work,” Jackson said, bringing pages of notes and using his wit and charm to make people there feel special as he recognized birthdays and anniversaries.
“Van was someone who always offered words of encouragement to others,” Jackson said, recalling how Craddock would never leave a service without telling him he had enjoyed or learned from his message to the congregation.
Craddock was humble, he said, with a sense of humor that was both witty and corny.
“He had intensity behind that soft-spoken exterior,” Jackson said. “He was a very determined person who held himself to high standards.”
Craddock was known for his love of the Longview Lobos, the city and East Texas.
Janis Canion, a retired longtime Longview ISD teacher and administrator, invited Craddock to be the first man who spoke at Women in Longview Day.
“Instead of history, he spoke about ‘her story,’ and put his own unique twist on that,” Canion said. “As you know from reading him, he was a supporter of women, probably because he and Bettye were such allies in everything. They shared a love of their family, obviously, but also of Longview, of writing, of journalism. I just loved and admired him very much. … I have many friends that share our sadness (at his death) and he will be missed, obviously, not just by his close friends but by the entire city and maybe the state. His humor and his writing skills extended beyond East Texas.”
Craddock graduated from Longview High School in 1966, attended Kilgore College and graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University. That’s where he met his wife, and they went on to have a son, Chris, and a daughter Cathy. They also have two granddaughters.
The Vietnam veteran worked in several positions at the Longview News-Journal in earlier years, including in the sports department, as a reporter, city editor and entertainment editor.
Gem Meacham, a member of the Gregg County Historical Commission, described Craddock as a “mentor” and a “resource” for all things local history. She recalled the latest example when he helped the county with the historical research needed to land an historical marker for the Longview Cannibals, a baseball team that played here in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“He’s always been so knowledgeable about history and so interested in making it come alive with his stories,” Meacham said. “Many historians do the research and the writing. He made it feel like they were real people to me.”
He wrote six books that collected his columns together or focused on East Texas history. He also volunteered at the historical museum, helping organizing and writing the script used in the annual Dalton Days event hosted by the museum, about an 1894 bank robbery in downtown Longview.
Jackson said a verse Craddock often quoted from the Bible will be featured Tuesday on the funeral program, from Psalms: “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
“He really appreciated every single day the Lord gave him,” Jackson said, describing how he would comfort other people about his dementia diagnosis.
“That was so much who Van was,” Jackson said.