Smith County is now under a “stay at home” order as cases of the coronavirus continue to rise.
With 27 confirmed cases, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran made the call to issue a two-week stay at home order to mitigate further spread of the disease.
Moran announced the order Friday during a news conference at the Smith County Commissioners Court room alongside officials from the city of Tyler, Northeast Texas Public Health District and healthcare providers.
The order took effect at 11:59 p.m. March 27 and end April 10 at 11:59 p.m. unless extended or terminated by Moran.
Moran explained that a stay at home order is a somewhat more lenient order than shelter in place, but is fully enforceable. The order defines essential things, such as health care items, grocery shopping, gas stations, child care, carry out restaurants, governments, first responders and media.
Moran said the “shelter in place” terminology is more appropriate for a tornado.
“The purpose of this order is to further protect the health, safety and welfare of our Smith County community,” Moran said. “It is also to ensure that – as a community – we take affirmative steps to support our local health care providers and institutions by mitigating any spikes in COVID-19 patient numbers.”
Some key differences include allowing residents to still go to work in cases where they can be closed off from the public with 10 or fewer employees in the office, and it also allows for the continued use of city parks and trail networks. Officials did say residents should use discretion and know that means they can’t use parks to play team sports or have large gatherings.
Moran said after recent briefings he believed it to be incumbent to issue the order ahead of the weekend.
He noted governments should uphold liberty, not lessen it; however, the community’s health compelled him to act.
“As county judge, let me say: when I was elected as county judge appointed four years ago, I was elected as that, a county judge. I was not elected to be your mother, so be responsible for yourself,” Moran said. “People will still be getting gas, going to the grocery store and exercise good sense, as your mother would have instructed.”
Moran encouraged people to seek constructive ways to help their neighbor and act accordingly as well as avoid unnecessary stressors during this time.
Tyler Mayor Martin Heines echoed the suggestions to stay home as much as possible during this two-week period.
“This is a short blip in history. Let’s relax and pause and love your family. Let’s give them that six feet of distance,” Heines said. “If you (work) an essential service, go do your essential service. Please go home.”
Smith County Health Authority Dr. Jeffrey Levin said initial growth in the COVID-19 cases was quite small, but since last Sunday, the number of cases has more than doubled with most occurring within the last 48 hours.
“We’re experiencing community spread of this virus in our city, county and region,” Levin said. “One of our best opportunities to be prepared is to ensure that our local healthcare systems are able to systematically address the concerns of our citizens. Venture out only when it is essential to do so.”
NET Health CEO George Roberts said that of the 27 confirmed cases there are seven traveled-related and 20 as a result of community spread. There are 24 within the city of Tyler, and three in other areas of Smith County. Roberts said they are not aware of any cases at nursing homes. One healthcare worker is included in the positive cases, but Roberts said their exposure was not work related.
Nine are hospitalized and 17 are at home self-monitoring their symptoms, Roberts said. There has been one death, a 91-year-old Hideaway Lake resident.
Roberts said there are also four cases in Gregg County, where one person is hospitalized, and one patient in Van Zandt County, who is hospitalized.
Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Roberts encouraged people to contact their medical provider before showing up to protect healthcare workers and others.
The Public Health Lab of East Texas has tested 401 patients for coronavirus, Levin said. That number does not include patients being tested by private laboratories.
Heines said at least 100 healthcare providers have come in contact with those exposed to the virus.
UT Health East Texas Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Cummins and Christus Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Anderson both said the hospital systems are prepared for coronavirus.
Cummins and Anderson said both of their institutions are able accommodate additional beds, and the systems have been in constant communication to ensure resources can be reallocated to locations as necessary. They also have been in contact with community partners in the event that other facilities need to be utilized for hospital beds.
Roberts said there are an adequate number of ventilators for the area.
“We don’t know how widespread it is yet,” Cummins said. “That’s why it’s crucial we all do our part and stay home to minimize the spread.”
Cummins said those who believe they have COVID-19 should call before visiting a healthcare facility. If terribly ill, they should call 911.
“We are working to combat this before it reaches a proportion that cannot be managed,” Anderson said.
Cummins said none of the UT Health East Texas healthcare workers have tested positive.
Moran said people could still go outside as long as they keep their distance from others. Those who have tested positive or are awaiting your test results, have additional requirements to stay at home, as well as those who live under their roof.
If a place of business can conduct with 10 or less people, Moran said that can still continue. Those not interacting with the public can continue operations as well.
If in violation of this order, people can be punished with a fine up to $1,000 or confinement in the county jail for a time up to 180 days (six months).
Moran hopes policing is not needed. There will be a centralized email address for questions regarding certain activities and where to send violation concerns.
Law enforcement will be visiting with local businesses share the terms of the order and work with them to make the stay at home order happen.
Tyler City Manager Ed Broussard said city solid waste will continue. For those not using the city of Tyler services, they should consult with their solid waste provider.
For dumpster activity, Broussard asked that businesses monitor and request additional pickup if needed.