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TEXARKANA, Texas — The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region does not reflect the number of actual cases, a local official said Tuesday.

Because of "an overall lack of testing capabilities" and a lag in receiving testing results, more cases than the one confirmed in Bowie County and the one confirmed in Cass County likely exist, Local Health Authority Dr. Matt Young said during an afternoon media briefing.

The Bowie County patient contracted the new coronavirus through travel, and it is believed that the Cass County patient became infected through close contact with that person, he said. That contagion within the community likely indicates that more people in the region are infected.

Young read a short prepared statement, and the briefing was streamed via internet from the emergency Joint Operations Center established at the Ark-Tex Council of Governments office building on the Texas side. The center coordinates mitigation efforts and communications for Bowie County and Cass County in Texas, as well as Miller County, Arkansas.

Young warned the public not to have a false sense of security because the official local numbers are low so far.

"Do not be misled. We are in the midst of a pandemic," he said. "We still need to heed the warnings from local, state and national leaders."

Cases of COVID-19 observed locally seem to counter conventional wisdom that the disease only threatens the lives of older, sicker patients.

Of three known local patients who required hospitalization, two were put on ventilators to assist their breathing, Young said. Both were younger than 60 and had none of the underlying conditions known to worsen the disease's effects.

"This is concerning," Young said.

Testing is not appropriate for everyone showing COVID-19 symptoms, and some may be asked to self-quarantine without being tested.

"Health care providers will be overwhelmed if testing is provided when not warranted. Local health care providers are following CDC and Health Department guidelines along with physician direction when requesting testing. If the person being treated does not meet the guidelines to be tested, they may be sent home to self-quarantine for the suggested time. This is very important to help with minimizing unintended exposure," Young said.

Texarkana is a regional hub for medical care and commerce, so COVID-19 patients from a large surrounding area are expected to seek treatment here. That could further strain resources that already are becoming thin.

Local health care providers need more personal protective equipment, and the regional emergency management team is actively working to acquire more, along with other needed supplies.

"The Joint Operations Center has asked for more supplies from our state and federal government, but currently they are not readily available. We are already limited on personal protective equipment, and we never had access to the mass quantities of COVID-19 testing everyone hears about on national TV," Young said.

Mild spring weather may tempt people to gather outdoors, but they should continue to stay home whenever possible and avoid groups of more than 10, Young said.

"This is not our usual springtime in Texarkana," he said.

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