Smith County fire marshal addresses response to COVID-19, nursing home testing

NET Health, local lab takes over testing at five Smith County nursing homes

WATCH: Smith Co. fire marshal talks emergency management, progress

TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - During a briefing at Tuesday morning’s Smith County Commissioners Court meeting, Fire Marshal Jay Brooks said there was no playbook for dealing with COVID-19.

Brooks said unlike other disasters, there was no mutual aid available because other counties were dealing with the same issues.

“We were alone as a local government," Brooks said.

And while the rate of new cases is down, Brooks told commissioners now is not the time to become complacent.

“I can assure you, COVID-19 is not gone," Brooks said. “We just simply do not have all the facts about this virus. The data is still limited and being validated.”

As of Tuesday morning, there were 43 active cases in Smith County, along with 152 patients considered recovered. The peak came on April 9 with 80 active cases, according to Brooks. He said the growth of new cases also is slowing.

“All are good signs, however, I remain cautiously optimistic," Brooks said.

During drive-thru testing at Harvey Hall Convention Center, 414 tests were done by a team from the state. Brooks said he only knows of two positive cases in Smith County. He says not all results are back, and residents from other counties were also tested.

When it comes to testing at Smith County nursing homes, Brooks said they have developed a protocol for testing at five skilled nursing facilities outside of Tyler city limits. The original plan was for ESD firefighters to meet nurses at the door of the nursing facilities, while a caregiver inside would do the actual swab.

Brooks said due to high demand, testing was not readily available. The Northeast Texas Public Health District has since identified a local lab to conduct testing, and testing is expected to be completed by Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal of Friday, May 29. Brooks told KLTV firefighters will no longer be assisting unless asked by NET Health.

Brooks said the state has now tested all inmates and staff at the Smith County Jail. According to Sheriff Larry Smith, “12 or 13” additional inmates have tested positive at the low-risk jail facility along with one employee. Smith said one jailer who tested positive for COVID-19 has now tested negative and will return to work Tuesday. Results are pending from testing at the downtown jail.

Smith also said they’ll soon be moving six COVID-19 positive inmates from the Marvin A. Smith facility in Gregg County back to Smith County.

Copyright 2020 KLTV. All rights reserved.