Editor's note: Gregg County and city of Longview officials on Wednesday issued a mandatory shelter-at-home order after two more cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in county residents. Find our updated story here.
Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt urged people on Tuesday to take seriously a call for county residents to voluntarily shelter at home.
Gregg County has had one confirmed case of COVID-19 to date, with 23 tests results still pending. The county also has logged 23 negative tests; however, it is surrounded by counties with positive cases.
Stoudt said the voluntary shelter-at-home recommendation was made in part because Gregg County is “sitting in the middle of a hot spot.”
“That’s what Gregg County is,” he said, and suggested the low number of positive tests in his county is related to the limited availability of testing and the slow process to get back results.
“We believe we need to address the situation as though there are multiple confirmed cases already in our county,” Stoudt said, adding that it’s important for each person to take personal responsibility.
He was joined in a press conference announcing the voluntary guidelines by Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne and Longview Mayor Andy Mack. The guidelines are effective through April 7, with the group warning the guidelines could become mandatory if more coronavirus cases are confirmed.
“We’re fighting an enemy we can’t see,” Stoudt said, and the county is working to get more testing and personal protective equipment for medical workers. “There is a delicate balance of keeping our citizens safe and maintaining a strong economy.”
In Smith County on Tuesday, County Judge Nathaniel Moran said he had no plans for a shelter-in-place order at this time.
“I am not getting recommendations from (health officials) to put in place a shelter in place order for Smith County,” Moran said, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “If, and when, that time comes, it may come, I will certainly take the necessary steps.“
Under the voluntary shelter at home guidelines in Gregg County, Stoudt said people should remain at home except for essential activities and essential businesses. That includes grocery stores and banking, among others.
“We must do everything possible to protect our citizens, first responders and professionals, because it is these people who are on the frontline every day to protect us,” he said.
The guidelines also call for residents to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet.
“All travel, except essential travel and essential activities, is discouraged,” information provided by the city of Longview says. “The Shelter-at-Home guidelines also direct businesses, except Essential Businesses, to cease all activities except minimum basic operations. All Essential Businesses are strongly encouraged to remain open. However, even Essential Businesses are encouraged to determine essential staff necessary to operate and to send non-essential staff home. To the greatest extent feasible, Essential Businesses shall comply with Social Distancing Requirements. Essential Businesses include a variety of different types of businesses that provide essential goods and services for the community, such as health care, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware stores, banks, laundromats, transportation, media, construction and several others detailed within the directive.”
Browne said he’s noticed people are “slowing down,” but encouraged people to be “more vigilant in limiting contacts.”
“That’s the way we are going to slow this down,” he said, but added that businesses need to continue “because that’s what feeds our economy.”
Mack said communities west and east of Longview, in the Dallas area and in Louisiana, which he said has the fastest growing number of coronavirus cases in the United States, have urged the community to “move faster” than those communities did to try to control the spread of the virus.
He noted that Longview’s population is about 80,000 but it swells to 250,000 each day considering other people who drive into and work in the community. Longview has two hospitals with a combined 615 beds and about 52 ventilators and 40 anesthesia machines — some of which are already being used by patients.
Also, Mack said statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate 40% to 70% of the population will catch the virus.
“You can do the math on your own populace,” he said.
About 80% of those people will do very well, while 20% will require hospitalization, and about 5% to 10% of those requiring hospitalization will need ventilators.
“Which are in short supply,” Mack said.
Also, he said, the most susceptible people are “older people, the greatest generation” — people he said are are currently at home, deeply isolated and lonely.
“The least we can do for this greatest generation is stay home and give them their best chance for survival,” Mack said.
Also, he said many businesses are essential to keeping the city and county going.
“The goal of this plan is not to cripple and shut down our economy,” Mack said.
“We want and need essential businesses to be productive,” but follow the social distancing guidelines.
Mack said officials are working to get more test kits in Gregg County, but they’re in short supply. The city also is planning for the possibility of conducting drive-thru testing at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center and to house patients there if necessary.
Stoudt said some people believe these steps aren’t necessary, and others think “it’s about time.”
“We don’t want to look back and say we didn’t do everything we could do,” Stoudt said.