Longview medical leaders are calling for renewed caution as a wave of new COVID-19 cases and increased hospitalizations plague the area, and the state, with Thanksgiving approaching.

The number of cases and the percent of positive cases are up, said Dr. Craig Meek, a board member of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians who works in the emergency rooms at Excel ER and Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview.

“This is a more extended wave,” he said, adding that he urges people to limit holiday travel and large gatherings. “It’s pretty important.”

At the same time, he encouraged people who need care, for COVID, for other procedures and medical emergencies, to seek help.

He and Dr. Lewis Browne, the Gregg County health authority, said hospitals have capacity and haven’t stopped elective procedures. The local intensive care units are “pretty full” but not at maximum capacity, Browne said, and elective surgeries haven’t been restricted. That means hospitals are not beyond capacity.

“We have capacity right now to take care of patients,” Meek said, adding that “Christus is not shutting down anything.”

The Longview-Tyler area falls into the state’s Trauma Service Area G. Information from the Texas Department of State Health Service shows the area has a total hospital capacity of 2,902 beds.

At the beginning of October, there were 189 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. That number grew to 279 by Nov. 1 and 397 — including 98 patients in intensive care — as of Saturday. That means about 13.7% of hospital capacity in the service area is being used.

Longview Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Libby Bryson said Friday the hospital is caring for 47 COVID-19 patients, including 16 in the ICU.

“Longview Regional Medical Center, like hospitals across the state, is seeing an increase in the number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19,” she said. “The surge of cases in our community is an important reminder that everyone can take action to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Practice social distancing, wear a face mask covering your nose and mouth when you’re in public, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often. We all need to do our part.”

At Good Shepherd, spokesman Will Knous added people should stay at home if they’re ill.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have urged our communities to protect themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors. After months of physical distancing and staying home, infections and deaths began to decline,” he said. “But, as we reopened, some of the steps that were critical to slowing the spread have been relaxed. As a result, we are now experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and seeing increased hospitalizations from COVID-19.

“Prevention is crucial to flattening the curve and preventing further spread of COVID-19 in our community. Christus Good Shepherd is committed to providing great care to all who seek it, and we encourage everyone to take the simple steps we know will stop the spread of the virus....”

Meek said that at this point in the pandemic, people who live in the same house as someone who has tested positive and who have symptoms should assume they, too, are positive and quarantine for 10 days. A positive test for everyone in the household would have limited value, he said, explaining that while there is more testing and capability for testing, there’s not unlimited testing ability.

Also, while cases and hospitalizations are increasing, Meek and hospital officials offered assurances that local facilities are able to provide care. It’s important, Meek said, for people to go to the emergency room if they’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, for instance.

“An emergency room is a safer place than a lot of big grocery stores,” he said. “They should not be afraid to come into the emergency room.”

During the first wave of COVID-19, he recalled seeing “some really bad cases” because people delayed seeking care at an emergency room out of fear of catching the virus.

“I”m afraid it’s going to happen again,” he said.

At Longview Regional, Bryson said the hospital has implemented precautions to help protect patients and providers, including restriction visitation.

“Our hospital remains prepared to care for patients needing medical care, whether for COVID-19 or another medical condition,” she said, and went on the praise the hospital’s staff and physicians for their work during the pandemic.

Meek called for people to be kind and patient with each other as the pandemic continues.

Knous said, “Our hospitals and emergency rooms remain safe places for all to receive quality care. We are not powerless in this public health crisis, and we can defeat it in the same way we defeated previous threats to public health — by working together to keep our family, friends and community safe.”