COVID-19 hospitalizations in East Texas dipped below a threshold Thursday that would have rolled back coronavirus-related restrictions. Local county judges are hoping residents can continue to take precautions to keep that number down as “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

In the 19-county Trauma Service Area G, which includes Smith County, there are 2,815 total staffed hospital beds among all of the counties, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. On Thursday, COVID-19 patients occupied 14.91% of available hospital beds in the region, according to the state.

According to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders, when the percentage of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 exceeds 15% of the total hospital capacity for the Trauma Service Area for seven consecutive days, the entire region becomes subjected to additional restrictions.

This week, Trauma Service Area G experienced four consecutive days in which hospitalizations exceeded the 15% threshold, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The data shows that on Sunday, the rate was 15.2% for the region; on Monday, it was 15.78%; on Tuesday, it was 16.3%; and on Wednesday, it was 16.66%.

However, Thursday when the rate dipped to 14.91%, it stopped the current cycle, meaning the additional restrictions were not triggered.

Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran called the rise in hospitalizations throughout the region an indicator that there’s a need to “buckle down.” He encouraged East Texans to stay home when sick, wear face masks, practice social distancing and hand washing and taking the necessary precautions to reduce spread of the virus.

Moran said he and others don’t want to see the spread worsen or for business capacity to take a downward turn. He noted that business owners have been resilient throughout the pandemic and have worked to find innovative yet safe ways to conduct business while facing restrictions.

“On the whole, our business community has done a great job,” Moran said.

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said he urges residents to remember the basic COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing face masks and social distancing, that officials have been encouraging since February if the rate is to remain below the threshold.

“It’s December now, and we started dealing with this in February. The message is still the same: Social distance, wear a face mask, maintain hygiene, stay out of crowds,” Stoudt said Thursday. “We’re getting close. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not a train coming at us any more; it’s a support in the form of a vaccine, but it’s going to slowly roll out. Now, we’ve got to do everything we can to minimize the surge because it’s coming.”

Zak Wellerman contributed to this report.

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