East Texas COVID-19 cases increase as at-home test availability dips

Pharmacies struggling to keep at-home test kits in stock as demand increases
A COVID-19 at-home test kit from Abbott
A COVID-19 at-home test kit from Abbott(Blake Holland/KLTV)
Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 7:04 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2021 at 7:09 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - New cases of COVID-19 are rising across East Texas. And while the climb is happening at a slower rate than in other parts of the country, local health leaders say it’s speeding up.

On Tuesday, the Northeast Texas Public Health District reported 340 new cases in Smith County since Christmas Eve. In Gregg County, 96 new cases were reported since Dec. 24. For perspective, 504 cases were reported during the entire month of November in Smith County and 121 were reported in Gregg County.

The latest COVID-19 case information for the seven East Texas counties covered by NET Health.
The latest COVID-19 case information for the seven East Texas counties covered by NET Health.(NET Health)

And when it comes to COVID-19 hospitalization data, Monday’s count from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows the number of positive patients admitted to hospitals in the trauma service area including Tyler and Longview during a 24-hour period were at their highest level since Oct. 11. The 24-hour admission count for the trauma service area including Deep East Texas was the highest number since Oct. 15.

“We, here in East Texas, are lagging a little bit behind what Texas is doing, but we’re all incrementally increasing our cases,” said Russell Hopkins with the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

Health leaders say it appears the omicron variant is now making up a majority of the new cases, and symptoms appear to be milder than other variants.

“It does seem that the symptoms are somewhat less severe,” said Dr. Paul McGaha, Smith County Health Authority.

And while less severe, health leaders say the virus spreads faster and easier than other variants.

“They’re talking the level of transmissibility of measles, which can be 18 to one. Meaning you can expose 18 people at a time,” Hopkins said.

Symptoms also appear to be somewhat different than previous variants, according to Hopkins, who said this variant often starts with a scratchy throat and eventually sinus issues.

“And they’re thinking, ‘well, I’ve got sinusitis,” he said. “Thinking, ‘my allergies are killing me - this is just really mild. I don’t feel sick,’ and turns out they are positive with omicron.”

And with so many East Texans testing positive for the virus, health officials say recent holiday gatherings mean there will be even more close contacts in need of testing.

“The testing situation is as problematic in East Texas and around the nation,” McGaha said.

KLTV 7′s calls to East Texas drug stores revealed that most are out of the at-home test kits, forcing people to seek testing at clinics and pharmacies.

“I hope the push to move a half-a-billion test out into the public happens quickly because we’re going to need them in a couple of weeks,” Hopkins said about the federal government’s recent announcement.

“But for now we’re going to have a little rough go between now and the next several weeks, because demand is definitely, definitely exceeding supply,” McGaha said.


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