Hopkins County and Sulphur Springs Emergency Management officials, along with the Local Health Authority will soon be increasing the amount of COVID-19 data included in the COVID-19 reporting for Hopkins County. The county officials also gave a quick update on the COVID-19 situation in Hopkins County, and how it is impacting the community as a whole as well as emergency responders and law enforcement personnel.
In addition to daily updates, the county will also be sharing additional information Texas Department of State plans to begin providing on Mondays. This will include a more compete picture of positive antigen testing, identified in state reports as new probable cases, as well as recovery and active status of “probable” antigen cases, Local Health Authority Nurse Brynn Smith explained.
The local officials have for the last 2 months been providing positive antigen test results for Hopkins County residents tested by partnering healthcare facilities in Hopkins County. Those results have been reported weekly on Fridays.
The local emergency management officials will now report all positive antigen results for Hopkins County residents reported from facilities across the state or any other source reported to the the state. This can include individuals who are tested at facilities outside of Hopkins County.
That means the initial number of positive antigen results for Hopkins County residents will be significantly higher, because not only of the broader reach but because the cumulative antigen total includes all results since June 23.
Positive antigen cases in which patients fit priority demographics are being investigated by a state contractor. That means in some cases, the individuals have already been contacted by someone representing the state when Smith calls to for contact tracing purposes for other tests, according to Nurse Smith.
Smith said the numbers are “monumental” because they give a broader picture of COVID-19 in the Hopkins County community.
“We’ve been very limited to what our true probable numbers are. We are relying on transparency with testing entities so we are limited to probable positives,” Smith said, referring to facilities in Winnsboro and Paris where some Hopkins County residents are reported to have had antigen tests conducted.
“Probable is a really large number. We do not want to create unneeded panic, these are cumulative,” Nurse Smith said. “They are true positives in our county.”
COVID-19 in Hopkins County
The numbers daily numbers reported by HC/SSEM are the cases “confirmed” by molecular tests. Hopkins County has seen a spike in those case over the last 1 1/2 month.
Hopkins County Emergency Management officials reported the COVID-19 positivity rate is over 9 percent, about 2.15 percent less than the two biggest “hot spots” for the virus.
“It is scary right now. El Paso right now is on shutdown because of COVID. The Panhandle is also seeing significant spikes, so much so they are shipping patients out to other states and other hospitals. Our hospitals in our region are also getting fuller by the minute, so much so that we can’t take on extra patients from those regions,” Local Health Authority Nurse Brynn Smith said Monday.
The positivity rate for El Paso is about 15 percent, the Panhandle over 11 percent.
“We are only 2.15 percent away from the Panhandle’s positivity rate right now and its increasing, so we are starting to see that bulge,” Brynn Smith.
Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said he has heard nothing from the governor’s office and is unaware of any future mandates or restrictions for Hopkins County or the state at this time. The focus in Austin at this time, the judge said, seems to be on the election. There could be action at a later time, but currently, he is aware of no planned COVID related actions or restrictions from the state level.
He said if the latest reports that Joe Biden follows through on reports for a federal mask mandate, the county will follow federal law.
Brynn Smith said the only authority the LHA has is to say whether or not someone should be in quarantine.
She said that the cumulative COVID-19 molecular case count is over 700 for Hopkins County. She emphasized the need to continue practicing social distancing and wearing face masks to try to help slow the continued spread of the virus in Hopkins County.
“It is so wide-spread that, yes, we have certain entities named as hot spots, but there is not a place that hasn’t been affected,” the LHA nurse said.
She said one way the virus can continue to be spread is through individuals who are asymptomatic, those who have symptoms of allergies or sinuses, who keep working even when presenting symptoms of illness, and don’t get tested.
“You can’t help spread a virus that you don’t know you have. It is being spread. It’s everywhere, every age group, schools businesses, every entity is affected,” Smith said.
“It is a significant of an amount that people will be concerned and rightfully so. I think it’s going to show what we’ve been emphasizing on how many true positives there are in our county,” the LHA nurse said.
Smith encourages those who are in public to wear masks and social distance, especially in places of work, anywhere they will be around others for a total of 15 minutes. That recommendation includes servers at restaurants that offer outdoors dining, who visit for 5 minutes at a time to take an order, serve or check on their customers and at the end of the meal.
When asked about the absence of elected officials and employees at the courthouse, county officials cited HIPPA for not commenting on any potential COVID cases among county employess.
Hopkins County Fire Chief Andy Endsley said the courthouse is cleaned every Saturday. It was sanitized four times last week — before, during and after the election, as well as on Saturday. The disinfectant is supposed to be good for 45 days once applied, but Endsley said the county firefighters on Saturdays “go the extra mile” weekly to disinfect the courthouse from top to bottom.
Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office personnel disinfect Hopkins County Law Enforcement Center, which houses the sheriff’s offices and jail, as well as the District Court and other District offices in the Rosemont Street complex.
Extra fire department staff are called in if the department does not have a full crew to staff the extra Saturday cleaning work. They also disinfect the fire station, which includes the TRAX bus service and south side EMS, as well as the Hopkins County Annex Building and County Clerk/Attorney’s buildings.
Hopkins County Civic Center staff perform their own disinfecting, on an almost daily basis, Endsley noted.
Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County firefighters have worked with local nursing homes. The city fire chief has assisted one facility with a decontamination area. DSHS has a department specifically dedicated to long term care facilities.
“We do what we an from the local end. I feel the situation is improving,” LHA Nurse Smith said.
When asked whether first responders and law enforcement have tested positive for COVID-19, Brynn Smith replied yes, and emphasized that there hasn’t been any place or entity that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19.
Endsley said the county has had a few emergency responders who have remained off duty until they tested negative for COVID-19, but it has not caused any staffing issues for the county.
Sulphur Springs Police Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator Jason Ricketson said COVID is not currently affecting any city emergency responders and there are no shortage issues at this time.
Hopkins County EMS Director of Services Brent Smith said the EMS service has had a couple of COVID-19 cases, and others who have quarantined, which can present a staffing challenge, but has not caused any response issues.
“We have been dealing with this since March. It was inevitable,” Brent Smith said. “We are fortunate to make it until November until we had a positive case.”
Smith said the EMS staff mitigate as appropriate, decontaminating the ambulance and station daily, often multiple times a day to reduce risk of contamination and spread of the virus.
The EMS director said transport volumes related to COVID-19 have been relatively level the past couple of weeks. There have not been a tremendous amount of COVID calls. The hospital is keeping many patients who do come in, with primarily only the patients who need care for more complicated cases being transferred to other facilities.