From staff and wire reports
While Gregg and most surrounding counties have recorded mostly small increases in new COVID-19 cases the past several days, it’s a different story in the Houston area.
Gregg County Health Administrator A.J. Harris reported Saturday that the county had three more positive cases, pushing its cumulative total to 315.
Harris said 2,489 total tests had been administered in the county as of Saturday, with 2,048 results returning negative and 126 results pending. The county has recorded 10 deaths and 86 COVID-19 recoveries.
In Northeast Texas, only Bowie County reported a double-digit increase Saturday — 11 more cases to bring its total to 312
The upturn in the Houston area began two weeks ago and accelerated this past week, the Houston Chronicle reported. Health officials believe people might have let down their guard and come in closer contact with others following the reopening of businesses by the state and last month’s Memorial Day weekend holiday.
Before the increase, the Houston area had settled into a roughly month-long plateau, the newspaper said.
“This is a trend we’re definitely keeping an eye on,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official.
Restrictions in the Houston area and the rest of Texas began to be lifted on May 1, with the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and malls, but with limits. Since then, limits on occupancy have been eased as additional businesses, including gyms, bars and hair salons, have also been allowed to reopen. This past week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, which expanded capacity for bars, restaurants and retailers and will allow for outdoor Fourth of July celebrations of 500 or more at the discretion of local officials.
COVID-19 patients have occupied hospital intensive-care units in the nine-county Houston area at higher levels the first three days in June than they did on any single day in May, according to data compiled by the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, a state group that coordinates the region’s emergency response to disasters.
Case counts of COVID-19 also have increased. The rolling average in the Houston region rose from 267 on May 22 to 358 on June 4.
Statewide on Saturday, 1,940 new cases and 31 new fatalities were reported, bringing total infections to 73,553 and deaths to 1,819.
Meanwhile, the state’s top health agency announced Friday it’s launching a study on the coronavirus’ effect on vulnerable populations in Texas, which will include data on things such as race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, geographic location and employment status.
The same day, a spokesman for Abbott confirmed a report from The Dallas Morning News that the state plans to significantly ramp up coronavirus testing next week in areas of the state that are predominantly black and Hispanic.
The Texas National Guard again is set to lead free mobile COVID-19 testing this week in Longview at different locations across the city.
Screenings are set 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day: Tuesday at Foster Middle School, 1504 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; Thursday at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 2500 McCann Road; Friday at Community Connections, 501 Pine Tree Road; and Saturday at Broughton Recreation Center, 801 S. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
“Texas needs to understand the health impact of COVID-19 on these vulnerable populations to determine which of these factors may be putting some Texans at greater risk,” Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said in an email.
Texas previously struggled to get a complete picture of how the coronavirus was affecting its black and Hispanic communities, despite earlier reports that indicated black Americans are disproportionately likely to get sick or die from the virus.
Mann said the commission is preparing for a preliminary analysis of the study in the fall, with additional monitoring and data collection moving forward.