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Gregg County virus cases jump by 27 as Smith leaps up 52; Nacogdoches enacts voluntary mask order

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Gregg County added more than two dozen new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, but Smith County still nearly doubled that number as it faces a resurgence. Meanwhile, Nacogdoches County is asking residents to cover up.

The city of Nacogdoches and Nacogdoches County issued simultaneous proclamations Tuesday asking residents over the age of 10 to voluntarily wear face masks when within 6 feet of anyone not in their household. 

It also says businesses are strongly encouraged to adopt voluntary face mask policies for employees and customers, with exceptions for people eating and drinking in food-related businesses. The "voluntary compliance" went into effect at midnight Tuesday. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Tuesday reported a cumulative total of 397 cases of COVID-19 for Nacogdoches County, an increase of 16 cases from the day before. The county has had 16 deaths from the virus.

Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne cited 27 new cases Tuesday, boosting the county's cumulative total to 381.

Browne said of the 27 cases, 17 are under age 40 and eight are over age 40.

"Two of them, we don’t know their age, because it wasn’t given to us. That’s a 2-to-1 ratio," Browne said, "so the younger people are going out and getting infected. No one over the age 79. The ratios show a big swing."

Of the known ages for the 381 cumulative cases since the outbreak began in March, 170 have been patients under age 40, and 210 have been patients over age 40, he said.

Browne said he has noticed that younger people aren't wearing face coverings in stores as much as their elders are.

"My observation in the city of Longview is the older population are wearing the masks, and the younger are not," he said. "Notice more women wearing masks than men, but it is interesting: it’s seven males versus 20 females (in Tuesday's new cases). It’s 3-to-1 female-to-male on one day of getting results back."

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said he thinks the case increases are outcomes of family celebrations.

"The correlations we could come up with were the holiday seasons, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day — all falling in May and June — where people were together a lot and enjoying family time and kids out of school, being at the beach, wherever," Stoudt said. "That’s the only thing we could really come up with, because it was all from the community, not any kind of special testing we have going on."

Longview Mayor Andy Mack said he's concerned about the possible need for hospital space. Of the new cases Tuesday, 19 were from inside the city limits, he said.

"That’s a pretty big jump in one day for us," Mack said. "If you look at the surrounding areas, the numbers are spiking pretty big right now, but, once again, probably expected. We’re doing a lot of walk-up testing, a lot of free testing. I just hope the majority of people who test positive don’t have to be admitted to the hospital, because we have to have capacity in our hospital facilities."

County Health Administrator A.J. Harris reported 3,218 total tests had been administered in the county as of Tuesday, with 2,673 results returning negative and 164 results pending. The county has recorded 145 recoveries and 14 coronavirus-related deaths.

Just to the west, Smith County set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases with 52 additional diagnoses reported Tuesday, pushing the county's cumulative total to 618, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

That county now has 321 active cases and has recorded 293 recoveries and four deaths.

Tyler hospitals on Tuesday were treating 58 patients from East Texas for COVID-19, down nine from Monday.

Since June 1, Smith County has recorded 418 new coronavirus cases, NET Health numbers show. 

That means the month of June accounts for 67.64% of the total cases in Smith County.

In Harrison County, County Judge Chad Sims reported five new cases on Tuesday, bumping his county's cumulative total to 313. 

The county also recorded five recoveries Tuesday, increasing that total to 232. The county now has 51 active cases, and its death toll from the virus stands at 30.

"Hand-washing and social distancing are great, but keeping your mouth covered greatly slows the spread of germs/viruses," Sims wrote Tuesday in his daily Facebook update. "If you’re going to be out and near other people, please be considerate and thoughtful. Wear your mask. It takes all of us to stop the spread."

In Upshur County, the Office of Emergency Management reported Tuesday that the county now has had 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The number is an increase of 13 from previous reports. 

The county office reported 36 recoveries. The county has recorded no deaths from the virus. 

"Social distancing will continue to be very important in slowing the spread of this virus," a statement from the Office of Emergency Management said. "Facial coverings are an extremely important part of keeping everyone safe and slowing the spread of this aggressive disease."

In Lamar County, 13 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported Tuesday, raising that county's cumulative total to 296, according to the Paris-Lamar County Health District.

The district said 289 of the cases are from community spread and seven are travel-related. The county has recorded 13 deaths from the virus.

Across the 25-county East Texas region, at least 5,253 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed by Tuesday evening, up 203 cases from 5,050 the day before. The death toll Tuesday stood at 183, which has remained unchanged since Friday.

— City Editor Belinda McCoy McLaughlin, Digital Editor Scott Brunner, Staff Writer Kristen Barton and the Tyler Morning Telegraph contributed to this report.

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