Gregg County Coronavirus Conference

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Anderson of Christus Good Shepherd Health System speaks March 10 during a news conference about COVID-19 at the Gregg County Courthouse. (Michael Cavazos/ News-Journal Photo)

As local hospitals continue to care for a surge in patients from the second wave of COVID-19, officials at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview can see another wave on the horizon.

When fall and winter arrive, people will be indoors more because of the weather. Schools will be back in session.

It’s likely there will be increased spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Mark Anderson, chief medical officer for Christus Good Shepherd Health System.

“When that happens, we’re likely to see another surge,” he said. “The question is, how much. That’s the unpredictable part. … I think we all know that we can expect to have this for many more months into the future.”

On June 30, Gregg County Health officials reported there were a cumulative 381 COVID-19 cases in the county since the disease showed up here in March. That number grew exactly 1,000 cases in the month of July to a cumulative 1,381 people positive for COVID-19 — an increase of 262% — with 276 recoveries reported, as of Friday.

Anderson said it’s possible the surge was related to the Fourth of July, but local health officials are starting to see a “flattening” in cases. He said the number of hospitalized patients has stabilized.

According to data previously reported by Longview Mayor Andy Mack, there were 77 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Longview on July 20. Data he reported showed that number almost hit 100 before dropping this past week. On Saturday, information on the Texas Department of State Health Services website showed there were 251 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the area that includes Marion, Harrison, Panola, Rusk, Shelby, Trinity, Gregg, Upshur, Cherokee, Freestone, Houston, Rains, Franklin, Van Zandt, Anderson, Henderson, Smith, Wood and Camp counties.

The illness has killed 22 Gregg County residents as of Saturday.

Anderson said there are “quite a few” patients hospitalized in a variety of conditions, with the numbers varying day to day. Those numbers are stabilizing, he said, adding that’s a trend that is in line with what health care officials are seeing around the region and state.

“We’re really not having any capacity issues around that particular body of patients,” he said, adding that Christus Good Shepherd’s intensive care unit is well-positioned and can be expanded to meet additional need. “If we’re lucky, we’re looking at some plateau.”

Todd Hancock, chief executive officer of Christus Good Shepherd Health System, said the Longview hospital’s ICU capacity is about 35 patients including surgical ICU.

“It’s a little bit of a misnomer to look at it strictly through the geography of it,” he said. “Hospitals like ours have a great capacity for surge capacity. Especially in this crisis we’re very prepared to expand that. ... With very little effort on our part we could double that capacity if the need arises.”

Also, he said the state has been “amazing” in terms of helping the hospital in a variety of ways.

The only possible limitation to increasing ICU space when needed, Hancock said, is the ability to staff it.

Some Christus Good Shepherd nurses in recent days have been using social media to promote a $20,000 sign-on bonus for intermediate and critical care nurses. Hancock said that even before the COVID-19 crisis, there was a shortage of critical care nurses — the people he described as on the frontline, working in the emergency rooms and intensive care units.

“As you can imagine, this crisis has only exacerbated that,” he said. “We are constantly searching for experienced, critical care nurses, as are all hospitals that are dealing with this. We continue to offer incentives to attract them and bring them to the community.”

Hancock noted that one thing that has been “extremely helpful” to the hospital is the community’s support for health care workers.

It’s been “amazing,” he said.

“I can’t tell you the number of employers in the community and the restaurants and businesses that have provided food and meals and support, and the letters and cards that have come into the hospital just encouraging (health care workers)” Hancock said.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis can become “very fatiguing” for health care workers.

“The outpouring has been truly humbling, and it has really been a sustaining effort for us that has been encouraging,”

The COVID-19 crisis that arrived here in March is “unprecedented,” Hancock said, and it has been taxing for physicians, nurses and other staff. However, Hancock said it’s been a “slow moving crisis.”

Anderson said that because Christus Good Shepherd is part of an international health care organization that has been planning for this since the illness arrived in the United States, the hospital had time to develop supply lines for personal protective equipment and to train and hire staff, he said.

Christus Good Shepherd and Longview Regional Medical Center officials are encouraging the public to follow all the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As cases of COVID-19 and patients requiring hospital care have risen in our community, our critical care capacity, at times, has been fully utilized,” said Libby Bryson, spokeswoman for Longview Regional. “We continually monitor our census and bed availability because it can change at any time as patients are admitted or discharged. We cannot stress enough how important it is for our community to continue to practice the guidelines suggested by the CDC. Practice social distancing, thorough and frequent hand washing, disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, and stay home except when in need of medical care, including testing.”

Christus Trinity Clinic recently published an advertisement in the News-Journal also encouraging people to wear masks in public and to follow social distancing and hand washing

Christus Good Shepherd follows those practices, and they’re important to slow the spread of the illness until there’s a vaccine, Anderson said. He added that people should keep surfaces clean, wash their hands, not touch their faces and if they’re sick, stay home — don’t go to work and don’t go out in public, he said.

Those are the steps “we’re relying on” stop COVID-19 from spread further.

“I think we can’t say it too often,” Anderson said.