CV-19 Testing

Jimmy Lawrence, right, Josh Petticrew and other Longview firefighters conduct COVID-19 tests in June 2020 at Heritage Manor assisted living facility in Longview.

Weekly COVID-19 infection rates have doubled in Gregg County and tripled in Smith County, with a meeting planned in Gregg County to discuss the rising number of cases.

“This thing continues to ramp up. I think we’re going to have the same kind of situation we had last year, “ said Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, with epidemiologists expecting COVID-19 to peak again in November.

Because of that, he’s organizing a meeting this coming week of local emergency management officials to discuss the situation. Actions the group could take will be limited, though, by restrictions Gov. Greg Abbott has placed on local authorities to, for instance, require people to wear masks.

“I do not think that the governor is going to allow us to do any mandates. I don’t believe that,” Stoudt said. “I think masks will be up to the person themselves.”

The rate of community spread is calculated using “the average number of all COVID-positive cases from the previous seven days. That answer is then divided by the population of the county, then multiplied by 100,000, and that final number is the seven-day rolling rate,” according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

When NET Health updated its weekly COVID-19 infection rates Thursday, Smith County’s rate almost tripled from 22.1 the previous week to 64.39 with the addition of 845 new cases. The increase moved Smith County into the “substantial” community spread category. Rains and Van Zandt counties also moved into the substantial community spread designation.

Gregg County’s infection rate grew from 18.33 to 33.54 with the addition of 209 cases, but the county remained in the “moderate” community spread category with Wood and Henderson counties. Of the seven counties covered by NET Health, only Anderson County remains in the “minimal” spread category.

It wasn’t immediately clear how those numbers were affected by a reporting change NET Health noted on its website: “On Thursday ... our Disease Surveillance Division was informed that several testing laboratories have updated their reporting processes and have listed COVID cases that were sampled, tested, and confirmed within the months of January 2021 through April 2021. Local health departments have to recognize the past COVID-positive cases as ‘New’ cases because they are being newly reported to us.”

Stoudt said he’s stayed in contact with both of Longview’s hospitals, talking to them weekly during the past three weeks. Their reaction to rising cases has been “Oh, no. Here it comes again,” he said.

He’s working on putting together an outreach program in which local elected officials will encourage people to get vaccinated.

“I feel like there’s got to be some kind of leadership out there that says, ‘Please, go get your shots.’ This is a real deal coming down the track again,’” Stoudt said.

He said he’s been “flabbergasted” to learn some of the people who won’t get vaccinated.

“There’s clear proof the upside is a lot better for you than not having your vaccine,” he said.

He’s hoping more encouragement and education will result in more people being vaccinated.

In the seven-county NET Health area, about 90% of all new cases are in people who have not been fully vaccinated, said Terrence Ates, spokesman for the organization. The majority of those people haven’t received any vaccines, and “very few” had received one dose but not yet completed their second dose.

“The age range is skewing on the younger side: 10s-40s,” Ates said. “This is consistent with the national trends in that it is spreading in groups of people that are not vaccinated.”

Statewide, 52.55% of the population 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That number is lower in Gregg County, at 38.78% and in Smith County at 39.42%.

Vaccines continue to be available at local pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

Shawn Sams, pharmacist and co-owner of Louis Morgan Drugs No. 4 in Longview, said he’s seen a “small increase” in the number of people seeking vaccines there since case counts started to rise. He thinks, though, that some people are still concerned about the issues that arose with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and its possible link to blood clots in some women. Louis Morgan has been offering twice-weekly Moderna vaccine clinics by appointment. Appointments for Monday and Tuesday can be made online at www.lmd4vaccine.com.

The vaccine seems to be effective, he said, and it’s been on the market for a longer time period now so the side effects have been documented. He might be selective in recommending what vaccine people get — women of certain ages might want to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Otherwise, the pharmacy recommends people get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control reports the risk involves women younger than 50.

“I have not seen anything that’s made me believe anything different than it’s something that people need to take and it’s beneficial,” Sams said of the vaccine.

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