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story.lead_photo.caption Bowie County Judge Bobby Howell speaks at a media briefing about the coronavirus epidemic Friday, March 20, 2020, at the Ark-Tex Council of Governments offices in Texarkana, Texas. Elected officials from Miller County, Arkansas; Cass County, Texas; and both cities of Texarkana look on. Photo by Karl Richter / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — A confirmed case of COVID-19 in Cass County, Texas, was contracted through community spread of the new coronavirus.

Cass County Judge Becky Wilbanks announced the case during a Friday afternoon media briefing at the emergency joint operations center established to centralize response to the epidemic.

Health care officials categorize COVID-19 cases as travel-related, community spread or unknown.

Wilbanks had only recently learned of the case and could not provide further details, she said, adding that the Texas Department of State Health Services will be investigating.

"We will get information to you as timely as possible, but we need you to heed the advice of those asking you to stay home and practice healthy behaviors," she said.

The Cass County case is the third reported in the Texarkana region this week, joining a confirmed case in Bowie County, Texas, and another in Sevier County, Arkansas.

Cass County has become part of the joint operations center alongside Bowie County, Miller County, Arkansas, and both cities of Texarkana.

As in previous news conferences, city and county officials sought to calm public fears and encourage compliance with public health guidelines and orders, emphasizing personal responsibility.

"It's up to you to make your own decisions about when and how you venture outside your homes," Bowie County Judge Bobby Howell said.

Howell addressed a rumor that the National Guard is planning to enact martial law and close state borders.

"This is not true. The National Guard has a medical team responding to this crisis, but they are not shutting down stores or keeping people in their homes," he said.

Both Arkansas and Texas have ordered some businesses, including restaurants, closed. Takeout and delivery — including of alcoholic beverages — from restaurants are still allowed, and Howell encouraged citizens to take advantage of those services.

"We hope that you'll keep patronizing local businesses and shopping with our locally owned stores, but it is important to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 and important to keep our social distance," Howell said.

Designated Local Health Authority Dr. Matt Young stressed cooperation and spoke to concerns about a shortage of needed medical equipment.

"We are all working together as a community, and the most important thing you can do to help is to stay calm, educated, alert and vigilant.

"I understand that we are concerned about resources right now, including personal protective equipment and testing capabilities. We are working through those issues through governmental agencies and want to assure you we're doing everything we can and using every resource to attack this virus," Young said.

Texas-side Mayor Bob Bruggeman also praised how well local governments are working together.

"I have never seen coordination and collaboration among our two cities and counties ever before, and that means the local residents of the Texarkana region have a fortified team responding to this with even more capacity than we would all alone.

"Let's all pray for our community's health and pray for our families and our neighbors and make sure we're acting responsibly in the days to come," Bruggeman said.

Texarkana, Arkansas, City Hall will remain open, but the Arkansas-side Public Works Department will begin seeing residents by appointment only, Mayor Allen Brown said. Many local financial institutions are also closing their lobbies but seeing customers by appointment, he said.

Brown noted that Albertson's on North State Line Avenue and the Arkansas-side Walmart have set aside hours for customers age 60 and older: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursday's at Albertson's and 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. every day at Walmart.

The briefing took place at the Ark-Tex Council of Governments offices on the Texas side, where the joint operations center is headquartered. To keep the briefing's attendance less than the recommended 10 people at once, it was repeated to two small groups of reporters, who were instructed to stand more than 6 feet apart.

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