COVID-19 infections are spreading rapidly across East Texas as the region continues to see high transmission rates and an increase in total cases.
In Smith County, active cases rose by more than 34% over the weekend, according to the latest public health data.
On Monday, there were 3,846 active cases in the county compared to 2,863 reported Thursday by the Northeast Public Health District. The increase is more than seven times the 513 active cases reported about a month ago on Dec. 9.
Additionally, Smith County has seen 986 new cases — 405 confirmed and 581 probable — reported since Thursday.
NET Health defines probable cases as those that are attributed to patients who have received positive antigen tests, until the individual has been administered a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. If a person’s PCR laboratory result is positive, that becomes a confirmed case.
Smith County continues to have the highest community transmission rate in NET Health’s seven-county jurisdiction. The “substantial” level has increased by 19% since Thursday, now at 137.60. Neighboring Gregg County follows closely behind with a rate of 130.35.
All seven counties in NET Health’s jurisdiction continue to be in substantial community spread levels of the virus, showing a surge of COVID-19 cases across East Texas.
A substantial rate means cities across each county are experiencing large-scale, uncontrolled community transmission of the virus in places such as grocery stores, schools, churches, workplaces, nursing homes, daycares and other congregate settings.
Substantial seven-day rolling rates are measured at 35 or more new cases, compared to moderate measured at a level of 10 to 35, and minimal at a level of zero to 10.
According to NET Health, the rate calculates the average number of all COVID-positive cases from the previous seven days. That number is divided by the population of the county, multiplied by 100,000, and the final number equals the rate.
On Monday, NET Health reported there were 147 East Texans being treated for COVID-19 at Tyler hospitals. The county’s hospitalization rates now trend similar to data last seen in early November.
On Monday, there were 267 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state’s 19-county Trauma Region G that includes Tyler. The hospitalization number includes 63 patients in intensive-care units and 48 patients on ventilators. In the first half of September, hospitalizations reached 822, the highest number of single-day COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region since the pandemic began. Similar trends were last seen late October.
As of Monday in Smith County, 54.26% of people age 5 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 47.65% of people age 5 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state. State data shows 85.40% of people 65 and older in the county had been vaccinated with at least one dose on Monday, while 78.91% of that population had been fully vaccinated. As of Nov. 4, children 5 to 11 years of age are included in vaccination numbers and rates.
On Monday, 41 Smith County jail inmates had an active diagnosis of COVID-19, and one inmate has died due to COVID-19 during the pandemic, according to NET Health. The Smith County Jail last week announced it has suspended visitation due to the recent uptick in cases.
About two months ago, Smith County reached a minimal spread level for the first time since June. At that time, all counties in NET Health’s seven-county district had reached minimal spread levels. As of Dec. 28, all counties had reached moderate spread.
From Dec. 1 to Dec. 30, there were 1,382 total new cases reported in Smith County. In November, just 504 new cases were reported compared to October and September in which more than 8,300 and 2,000 new cases were reported each month, respectively.
There have been 41,468 total COVID-19 cases in Smith County since the pandemic began and 37,197 total recoveries, according to NET Health.
Gregg County had 455 new cases — 227 confirmed, 228 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 1,676 total active cases within the county.
Henderson County had 199 new cases — 132 confirmed, 67 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 707 total active cases within the county.
Van Zandt County had 174 new cases — 87 confirmed, 87 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 550 total active cases within the county.
Anderson County had 156 new cases — 33 confirmed, 123 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 521 total active cases within the county.
Wood County had 155 new cases — 80 confirmed, 75 probable — reported since Thursday. There were 417 total active cases within the county.
Rains County had 33 new cases — 15 confirmed, 18 probable — reported since Thursday and there were 81 total active cases within the county.
Total recoveries and total active cases include probable and confirmed data. Data gathered in Monday’s report represents data from noon Thursday to noon Monday.
Parents and children gathered Sunday at the La Tiendita Magazine office and venue to celebrate Dia de Los Reyes Magos. The event is recognized on Jan. 6 to commemorate the three wise men as they embarked on a journey to find baby Jesus and brought gifts. Similarly, the holiday resembles Christmas and gift giving to children.
In Mexican tradition, Dia de Los Reyes Magos, also known as King’s Day, is celebrated with a pastry called rosca de reyes. The rosca is shaped like a wreath and is decorated with candied fruit and cherries. Inside, there is a small baby Jesus doll. Whoever gets the piece of rosca with the baby Jesus doll inside must have a celebration on Día de la Candelaria in February. On that holiday, candles are brought to the church to be blessed. It commemorates the day when Jesus was taken to the temple for the first time with Mary and Joseph.
Sunday’s sixth annual event event was organized by the magazine and an organization called Corazones Unidos, which translates to United Hearts. The group’s mission is to raise money for the Hispanic community to help those in need with funerals and medical treatments such as chemotherapies, dialysis and more.
Patricia Ramirez, organizer and member of Corazones Unidos, said the event was a success thanks to sponsors who gave hundreds of toys to give out to children for the holiday.
Hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all.
The move is a reaction to the severe hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the omicron variant is causing.
California health authorities announced over the weekend that hospital staff members who test positive but are symptom-free can continue working. Some hospitals in Rhode Island and Arizona have likewise told employees they can stay on the job if they have no symptoms or just mild ones.
The highly contagious omicron variant has sent new cases of COVID-19 exploding to over 700,000 a day in the U.S. on average, obliterating the record set a year ago. The number of Americans in the hospital with the virus is running at about 108,000, just short of the peak of 124,000 last January.
Many hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19.
At the same time, omicron appears to be causing milder illness than the delta variant.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that health care workers who have no symptoms can return to work after seven days with a negative test, but that the isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages.
France last week announced it is allowing health care workers with mild or no symptoms to keep treating patients rather than isolate.
In the Phoenix area, Dignity Health, a major hospital operator, sent a memo to staff members saying those infected with the virus who feel well enough to work may request clearance from their managers to go back to caring for patients.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure our employees can safely return to work while protecting our patients and staff from the transmissibility of COVID-19,” Dignity Health said in a statement.
In California, the Department of Public Health said the new policy was prompted by “critical staffing shortages.” It asked hospitals to make every attempt to fill openings by bringing in employees from outside staffing agencies.
Also, infected workers will be required to wear extra-protective N95 masks and should be assigned to treat other COVID-19-positive patients, the department said.
“We did not ask for this guidance, and we don’t have any information on whether hospitals will adopt this approach or not,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesperson for the California Hospital Association. “But what we do know is that hospitals are expecting many more patients in the coming days than they’re going to be able to care for with the current resources.”
Emerson-Shea said many hospital workers have been exposed to the virus, and are either sick or caring for family members who are.
The 100,000-member California Nurses Association came out against the decision and warned it will lead to more infections.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state health leaders “are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers,” Cathy Kennedy, the association’s president, said in a statement. “We want to care for our patients and see them get better — not potentially infect them.”
Earlier this month in Rhode Island, a state psychiatric hospital and a rehabilitation center allowed staff who tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic to work.
At Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, chief medical officer Dr. Hany Atallah said they are not yet at the breaking point and that workers who test positive are staying away for five days. “We still have to be very careful to prevent spread in the hospital,” he said.
Kevin Cho Tipton, a nurse at Jackson Memorial, said he understands why hospitals are eager to have employees come back after five days of isolation. Yet he worries about the potential risk, especially for patients at higher risk of infection, such as those receiving transplants.
“Yes, Omicron is less deadly, but we still don’t know much,” he said.
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin, in Orange County, Calif., and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)