Coronavirus pandemic

Bell County’s COVID-19 death toll increased by 12 over a three-week period after a technical issue was resolved, a local health official said Thursday.

The latest death records included a man from Harker Heights in his 70s, a woman from Temple in her 80s, a man from Killeen in his 60s, a man from Temple in his 70s, a woman from Killeen in her 80s, a woman from Belton in her 90s, two women from Temple in their 90s, a woman from Killeen in her 70s, two women from Temple in their 80s and a man from Bell County in his 40s, according to the Bell County Public Health District.

“The newest reported are for deaths that occurred in the last three weeks,” Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell said.

Robison-Chadwell’s statement was released as Bell County registered 286 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday — a single-day infection increase that inched Bell County closer to 3,000 active cases.

“Our new case total is 14,785 with 11,815 recovered,” Robison-Chadwell said. “We have 2,970 active cases and an incidence rate of 808.4 per 100,000 people. Please help us stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Area school districts

The Killeen Independent School District has registered 84 COVID-19 cases in the last seven days — about 8.1 percent of its total infections. Killeen ISD has totaled 1,037 cases since March 16: 459 students and 578 staff members.

The Temple Independent School District’s seven-day report is expected to update around 5 p.m. Its latest update — logging cases reported between Dec. 11 and Jan. 6 — showed 11 cases: three at Temple High, two at Lamar Middle School, two at Travis Science Academy, one at Jefferson Elementary, one at Scott Elementary and two attributed to “administration.”

About 0.438 percent of the Belton Independent School District’s population is recovering from COVID-19, according to district data. These 64 cases span across all but two of the district’s schools: Lakewood Elementary, and Belton New Tech High.

Belton High leads all campuses with 16 lab-confirmed infections.

Salado Independent School District has 24 active cases, Salado ISD Superintendent Michael Novotny said in his daily newsletter.

“Please continue to be careful through social distancing, wearing a mask, and avoiding large groups of people so we can prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” he said.

Variant virus

State health officials believe that the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant — a highly-contagious mutation first discovered in the United Kingdom — is circulating throughout Texas after the Lone Star State’s first case was discovered in a Harris County man.

Harris County Public Health and the Texas Department of State Health Services are investigating the case together.

“The fact that this person had no travel history suggests this variant is already circulating in Texas,” Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS’ commissioner, said in a news release. “Genetic variations are the norm among viruses, and it’s not surprising that it arrived here given how rapidly it spreads.”

Hellerstedt said Texans need to adhere to COVID-19 protocols in order to mitigate the further spread of this variant.

“This should make us all redouble our commitment to the infection prevention practices that we know work: masks any time you’re around people you don’t live with, social distancing, and personal and environmental hygiene,” he said.

Although the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious than other strains, it does not cause more severe disease, according to DSHS. COVID-19 vaccines, which are being shipped to Texas health care providers on an ongoing basis, are expected to be effective against it.

“It is thought to be responsible for only a small proportion of the current COVID-19 cases in Texas and the United States,” DSHS said.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the case “disturbing” in a post to her Twitter account on Thursday.

“Along with our recent trends, we could be on the road to a crisis if we don’t change our behavior now,” she said. “Do your part.”

Vaccine hubs

On Thursday, DSHS announced that COVID-19 vaccines received from the federal government will be distributed to providers capable of administering doses to more than 100,000 people.

Further vaccines also will reach smaller providers in other regions of Texas.

“As the vaccination effort continues to expand to people who are at a greater risk of hospitalization and death, in addition to front-line health care workers, these vaccination hubs will provide people in those priority populations with identifiable sites where vaccination is occurring and a simpler way to sign-up for an appointment with each provider,” DSHS said in news release.

The DSHS, which noted that Texas sites will receive about 200,000 doses next week, said a list of hub providers will be published this week.

“Vaccine remains limited based on the capacity of the manufacturers to produce it, so it will take time for Texas to receive enough vaccines for the people in the priority populations,” DSHS said. “The supply is expected to increase in the coming months, and additional vaccines are in clinical trials and may be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. There is no need to reserve shots for a second dose because they will get a matching number of doses for that at the appropriate time.”