Voters observed social distancing and wearing face masks as they waited in line to cast their ballots at the Heritage Building,1900 Bellwood Rd, as polls opened this morning Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 at 8 a.m. in Tyler, Texas for early voting for the November presidential election.

In one week, Smith County saw a decrease in the rate of community spread of COVID-19 by more than 37%, the Northeast Texas Public Health District reported Thursday.

While the rate of spread remains classified as “substantial,” the drop has been significant since last Thursday’s report: from 137.48 to 86.17.

The rate of COVID-19 spread in Gregg County remains about half of what it was in early September.

NET Health reported Thursday that Gregg County’s seven-day rolling rate of infection remained the same as Monday at 74.11. That rate still is more than double NET Health’s threshold for “substantial” community spread. However, it’s significantly lower than the week of Sept. 3, when the seven-day rolling rate reached 142.92.

The seven-day rolling rate is calculated by taking the average number of all COVID-positive cases from the previous seven days. That number is divided by the population of the county and then multiplied by 100,000, which produces the official rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) reported Friday the seven-day average of daily new cases in the United States is 121,553, a 17.1% decrease in the previous 7-day daily average. Though high spread levels remain, COVID-19 cases are decreasing.

What do the numbers mean?

Dr. Paul McGaha, Smith County health authority, weighed in.

“That’s a good thing, but the spread is still considered high,” McGaha said about recent numbers. “Overall in the nation, in Texas and in Smith County, we’re seeing a slight dip in case counts. That’s encouraging, but it’s really too early to tell if this is a permanent trend or not. Cases are still very high.”

Though it’s looking slightly better, rates are much higher than they were in the summer, McGaha said. “It’s too early to take this to the bank and say, ‘Our cases are decreasing.’ Positive trend, but lets continue to monitor it.”

To keep slowing the spread, vaccination against COVID-19 are recommended for all who are able to receive it.

In Smith County, 54.29% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 46.53% of people 12 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state. This means nearly half of the population within the county has yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. State data shows 81.94% of people aged 65 and older in the county had been vaccinated with at least one dose on Thursday, while 75.41% of that population had been fully vaccinated.

In Gregg County, 55.65% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 47.39% of residents 12 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state. State data shows 71.17% of Texas residents 12 and older had been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Thursday, while 60.83% had been fully vaccinated.

“Even though an individual who is young and healthy may not become very ill, and they contract COVID disease, they could spread it to others who could, when they have the disease, become very, very ill or die,” McGaha said.

He said COVID-19 hospitalizations are slightly dipping but are still very high.

On Thursday, the latest day for which data was available, 723 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the state’s 19-county Trauma Region G with 264 of those in ICUs. Earlier this month, hospitalizations in the Longview-Tyler region reached 822, the highest number of single-day COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region since the pandemic began.

“There are way too many COVID patients there, and the vast majority unvaccinated,” he said.

McGaha revealed that in a recent analysis, it was found unvaccinated patients make up 94 to 95% of those hospitalized in Smith County because of the virus.

Of the 5% that are vaccinated, many have underlying serious medical conditions, or are immunosuppressed. Many are also elderly populations, McGaha said, reminding that vaccines aren’t 100% effective.

“About five to 8% of people who receive the vaccine, the vaccine doesn’t work as effectively as it should, as with all vaccines, so we do have that happen sometimes. But the majority would have underlying medical conditions who have had the vaccine and who are still hospitalized,” he said.


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Bilingual Multimedia Journalist

I cover COVID-19 and health in the East Texas area for Tyler Morning Telegraph, the Longview News-Journal and Tyler Paper Español. Stephen F. Austin State University alumna. For story ideas, email me at rtorres@tylerpaper.com.