The death of a Longview nursing home resident Sunday brought the Gregg County COVID-19 death toll to five. It was one of 13 deaths statewide as Texans gathered to celebrate Memorial Day — some in violation of guidelines to slow spread of the virus.
County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said the city’s latest fatality was a patient who had been in the intensive care unit of a medical center for a few days. He could not identify it or the nursing home.
“It’s unfortunate,” Browne said. “All the deaths have had something to do with the nursing homes, all residents and one worker that went to the nursing homes, and that’s what we wanted to keep it out of.”
Gregg County also added six more cases Sunday, pushing its total to 203. The county’s number of recoveries was unchanged at 58.
With reporting slowed by holiday closures of health and government offices, state health officials said Sunday that 839 new cases of COVID-19 were counted statewide, a 2% daily increase that brought the total to 55,348. The 13 new fatalities pushed the state’s death toll to 1,519.
The true numbers are probably higher, officials have said, because most people have not been tested and studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick. Even then, however, they can transmit the disease to others.
As of Sunday, according to the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, about 871,000 of the state’s 29 million residents had been tested. After 33,385 recoveries, the health department said 22,558 active cases remain statewide.
In Gregg County, Health Administrator A.J. Harris reported the county had administered 1,979 tests. Of those, 1,647 were negative and 129 results were pending.
In Harrison County, Judge Chad Sims said three new cases were confirmed, making the total 233. The number of recoveries in the county, which has suffered 23 deaths, was unchanged at 67.
Titus County, which saw its case total increase 150% to 272 in the seven days through Saturday, had not updated its count by Sunday evening.
On Saturday, County Judge Brian Lee said the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Mount Pleasant, which employs about 3,400 people, could be a factor but not the only one driving the increases.
Franklin County added one case, pushing its total to a dozen.
Across the 25-county Northeast Texas area being monitored by the News-Journal, the total of cases Sunday was 2,447. A total of 109 fatalities had been reported.
The latest data came as Texans in some parts of the state flocked to parks, beaches, restaurants and bars to celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan for phased reopening of economic activity, bars, breweries and tasting rooms were allowed to reopen Friday at 25% capacity and with other social distancing measures in place. Rodeos, bingo halls and aquariums also were allowed to reopen. Restaurants, which had been allowed to reopen May 1 at 25% customer capacity, may now run at 50%.
The new standards don’t apply yet in El Paso and Amarillo, which have seen a recent increase in coronavirus cases.
Enforcement of Abbott’s restrictions remained an issue.
Sunday afternoon in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city planned to enforce the state’s occupancy rules after receiving reports of people flooding establishments over the holiday weekend.
Turner previously said the city would ask residents and business owners to self-enforce Abbott’s rules. On the whole, he said, people are respecting that rule but the city received an avalanche about people crowding into spaces, not distancing or wearing masks.
“We have done so well in this city,” Turner told reporters while wearing a light blue surgical mask. “This is not the time ... for some people to engage in this blatant behavior that will have an adverse affect on everybody else, not just themselves, but everybody else.”
Fire Chief Samuel Peña tweeted that the department had received about 300 complaints since Friday and “admittance beyond approved capacity will cause events to be stopped” until conditions are corrected.
Videos and news reports this weekend from across the country, in states where reopening has begun, showed people flooding nightclubs, restaurants and beaches. The same was seen across Texas.
Turner emphasized the city would not be heavy handed — “nobody’s going to be jailed” — but said the city had no choice but to issue citations or, in extreme cases, shut down businesses if they do not comply.
“Your rights stop where my rights begin,” he said, adding later, “Work with us, please.”
In yet another COVID-19-induced first over the weekend, some members of the U.S. House will designate colleagues to vote in their place this week as Congress takes up more legislation to address the pandemic.
As of Sunday morning, 18 members — all Democrats — submitted letters to the U.S. House clerk appointing a fellow Democratic member to vote in his or her place. Four Texans — U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Filemon Vela of Brownsville — were included in that group.