Nacogdoches Medical Center officials urged caution and expressed optimism Tuesday as they addressed area officials and business leaders during the county chamber of commerce’s weekly conference call.

Members of the hospital’s executive staff and medical personnel addressed concerns and talked about the need to be flexible in what seems to be an improving situation in the area regarding the novel coronavirus.

“We have seen a flattening of the curve,” said NMC CEO Jeff Patterson, who returned to take the helm at the hospital just as the pandemic hit the Pineywoods. “We’ve seen tremendous declines in overall hospitalizations.”

Patterson said it’s encouraging that, a little more than two weeks after Memorial Day and given the reopening of the state economy, a large second wave of COVID-19 cases hasn’t materialized.

A small bump up in the number of reported cases over the past week was observed, according to information released by health officials Tuesday, but Patterson said the overall trend has been downward in the past week.

He was cautious to say that doesn’t mean the coronavirus couldn’t still wreak further havoc statewide and locally, though, and he encouraged area residents and business owners to be flexible in adapting to what has become a rapidly changing world.

With fewer cases being confirmed — representing the flattening of the curve — Medical Center’s Ian Gibson, the director of strategy and associate administrator for the hospital, said there’s hope it will have an overall positive impact on the statewide economy, which has taken a sharp decline during the coronavirus outbreak.

Gibson encouraged businesses to take special precautions and be open about what they were doing to keep the virus at bay as a means of increasing consumer confidence and spurring more positive activity in the economy.

“People are interested in what you’re doing to address this,” he said.

The increased effectiveness and availability of tests and materials to combat COVID-19 is an important factor in moving on as the state continues its phased reopening, and Medical Center’s lab director Kelly Jordan said it will continue improving.

Early on, tests took longer to return results and testing kits weren’t readily available. Now, tests can return results in a matter of hours and sometimes minutes.

Medical Center and other healthcare providers now have the ability to test for current infections, past exposures and possible immunity, though Jordan said it’s still unclear whether past exposure to the virus means a person will remain immune to it.

“We’ve come a long way from the very beginning,” she said.

The hospital hopes to offer antigen testing in the near future, which should allow it to determine infections even faster. Antigen testing “is a new type of diagnostic test designed for rapid detection of the virus that causes COVID-19” that was approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization in early May.

As testing becomes easier and more sophisticated, Gibson said the hospital will work to make sure it’s readily available to area residents.

While there have been optimistic developments in the local battle against COVID-19, Medical Center administrators agreed it’s imperative to keep up tried-and-true methods for reducing the spread of the virus.

Wearing masks in public, proper hand washing and sanitization and social distancing are still important tools to limit spread.

“It’s not just a courtesy to your community, it’s a courtesy to yourself,” Patterson said about wearing face masks in public.

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