COVID-19 coverage graphic

As Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate Thursday, Gregg County COVID-19 cases jumped by 20 for a current active count of 258.

Gregg County Health Administrator A.J. Harris reported a cumulative count of 417 cases, which includes 145 recoveries and 14 deaths.

There have been 3,421 total tests in Gregg County, including 2,826 negative and 178 pending results, Harris said.

Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said all 20 cases are a result of community spread. He noted that both testing, including recent community testing sites, and COVID-19 positive cases have seen an upswing.

While cases might be rising, the number of patients being treated for the coronavirus at Longview hospitals remained at 37. Local hospitals are nowhere near capacity unlike hospitals in bigger cities, Browne said.

Abbott’s mask order states that Texans must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in public places in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases with some exceptions. The order is effective at 12:01 p.m. today.

According to Abbott’s order, after a written or verbal warning for a first-time violator, a person could have to pay a fine not to exceed $250 for their second violation. Further violations would be punished by a fine not to exceed $250 each time.

Exceptions for the order include counties with case counts lower than 20 being able to opt out, children who are younger than 10 years old and people with medical conditions that prevent them from safely wearing facial coverings.

Regarding enforcement, Gregg County Bill Stoudt said the county’s legal team is reviewing the order as enforcement of mask wearing could be challenging. He expects there could be a couple of verbal warnings for those not wearing masks.

Stoudt said the decision of ticketing people for not wearing would have to be made by the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office.

Gregg County area officials have been encouraging people to social distance, use good hygiene and wear masks during gatherings since February. The main focus locally is educating the public about the preventive measures, Stoudt said.

“We have to care for each other,” Stoudt said.

Browne said enforcement will be difficult, and he’s not particularly in favor of penalties. Browne has been encouraging county residents to wear masks in areas like large stores.

“I’m glad he did something to get people’s attention,” he said.

Browne said people protecting themselves with a mask helps protect others as well.

Harrison County cases rose by 12 Thursday for new total of 327, which includes 30 deaths, 234 recoveries and 63 active cases, Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said.

In Upshur County, there are 68 confirmed cases, including 38 recoveries and 30 active cases, according to the county’s website.

In Smith County, COVID-19 cases rose by 45 Thursday for a current active count of 402 as Tyler hospitals are now treating 69 East Texas patients for the virus.

The county’s cumulative count has reached 699, which includes 402 active cases, 293 recoveries and four deaths, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

The count of patients from East Texas being treated in Tyler hospitals is down seven from Wednesday.

Van Zandt County has 101 cases, including three deaths and 35 recoveries, NET Health reported.

Henderson County has 160 cases, including four deaths and 73 recoveries, according to NET Health.

Wood County has 94 COVID-19 cases, including the deaths of five Winnsboro residents and 55 recoveries, according to NET Health.

Anderson County has 145 cases, including 94 recoveries, according to NET Health. These numbers do not reflect inmates at the prisons in Tennessee Colony.

Rains County has 13 cases, including six recoveries, NET Health reported.