COVID-19 coverage graphic

East Texas counties watched their COVID-19 numbers soar Thursday, and local officials lauded the steps the governor took to prepare hospitals in the state’s major cities for the fresh wave of virus cases hitting Texas.

Gregg County reported 14 new coronavirus diagnoses Thursday, while Smith County broke its record with 33 new cases for the day.

Of 25 counties in the East Texas region, 20 of those counties reported a total of 137 new cases.

County Health Administrator A.J. Harris said the new cases pushed Gregg County’s cumulative total to 334.

Harris said the county’s recovery total stood unchanged Thursday at 141, and the county’s death toll from the coronavirus was unchanged at 14.

He reported 3,043 total tests had been administered in the county as of Thursday, with 2,541 results returning negative and 168 results pending.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday morning that he is once again banning elective surgeries — but only in Dallas, Harris, Bexar and Travis counties — to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients in those heavily populated areas where health officials are seeing the greatest upswing of COVID-19 cases. Abbott also paused any further phases of reopening businesses in Texas.

Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said he thought the governor made the correct move.

“I think he probably doesn’t need to open up anything more than he’s done, because we’ve had this surge,” Browne said. “Those areas are a very hard hit. I think it’s a right decision. The density of the population seems to be a very big risk factor for this big spread, which makes absolute sense.”

Longview Mayor Andy Mack said he didn’t see another choice for Abbott.

“I think he’s doing what he has to do, considering this virus is spreading at a rapid pace, and I don’t think he has any other option than to do what he’s doing,” Mack said. “I’m assuming he’s measuring critical levels as hospital availability, and he’s doing what he has to do based on hospital availability.”

Browne said the hospitals in Gregg County are not facing a shortage of space to care for COVID-19 patients.

“Our hospitals have more than enough coverage to take care of the numbers we’re getting, and it’s not putting a strain on our hospitals in Longview to keep operating the way they’re doing,” he said. “I think they’re being very responsible in testing before an elective surgery.”

In Smith County, one day after reaching its highest jump yet in COVID-19 cases, the county hit a new record when numbers shot up by 33 on Thursday.

The county’s cumulative count has reached 455, which includes 218 active cases, 232 recoveries and four deaths, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

East Texas hot spot Titus County added 11 cases, pushing the county’s cumulative total to 763, County Judge Brian Lee reported Thursday morning on Facebook. The county has recorded five deaths from the virus.

Lee said he expected to receive a report later in the day confirming more than 500 recoveries.

In Harrison County, County Judge Chad Sims reported three new cases, bumping his county’s cumulative total to 285.

The county has recorded 187 recoveries.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported 29 deaths for Harrison County.

“I urge all of us to continue to take this seriously so that our numbers do not continue to climb here in Harrison County,” Sims wrote Thursday in his daily Facebook update. “Masks, social distancing and keeping your hands clean will help prevent the spread.”

In Panola County, County Judge LeeAnn Jones reported four new cases of the virus, boosting her county’s cumulative total to 221.

The state health department on Thursday reported one additional death in Panola County, increasing its death toll to 25.

Across the 25-county East Texas region, at least 4,631 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed by Thursday evening, up 137 cases from 4,494 the day before. The death toll Thursday rose to 180, an increase of one from Wednesday.

— City Editor Belinda McCoy McLaughlin, Digital Editor Scott Brunner, Staff Writer Kristen Barton and the Tyler Morning Telegraph contributed to this report.