Coronavirus pandemic

A week after resuming updates to its online COVID-19 dashboard, the Bell County Public Health District now is seeing a spike in cases, prompting a rise in the county’s threat level for the coronavirus.

The district reported almost a doubling of cases over the previous week Friday, with a total of 421 active cases, including those infected with the delta variant. Officials had reported 219 active cases on July 9 through its dashboard, which had not seen an update since May.

Over the past week the county has seen an additional three new deaths from the virus, bringing the total to 469, along with a rising incidence rate. The incidence rate of cases in the county was at 116 per 100,000 people on Friday.

Nikki Morrow, interim director of the district, announced Friday afternoon the district moved the threat level for COVID-19 from Level 4, minimal controlled transmission, to Level 3, moderate controlled transmission.

“We saw a slight increase, which seemed to be related to an isolated event upon investigation,” Morrow said. “However, the number of new cases coming in each day closer to the end of the week showed a continuous increase.”

Morrow said that before the recent increase in cases, the county’s incidence rate had hovered between 24 and 40 new cases each week. She said this trend continued until July 3.

The health district had lowered the threat level of the virus on April 14 following two weeks of a flat trend in cases.

When the threat level was lowered, Amanda Robison-Chadwell, the former director of the district, asked residents to continue to exercise caution.

“Please do continue to exercise caution so that we do not give up the ground that we have managed to win against this virus as that is only too easy to do,” Robison-Chadwell said at the time.

COVID-19 cases

Total reported cases in the county now amount to 23,379, with 22,489 people having recovered from the virus so far.

Local health officials are attributing some of the rise in cases to the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is spreading mainly among the local unvaccinated population.

“The delta variant is in our community and we can expect to see the same trend as the state,” Morrow said. “While there is still more to learn about the delta variant, it rapidly spreads and does so more efficiently.”

County officials have pointed to executive orders by Gov. Greg Abbott that limit what restrictions can be put in place by counties and local government.

Executive order GA-34 is one of those that limit counties on what restrictions can be put in place, requiring a hospitalization threshold to be met.

Hospitalization rate

Trauma Service Area L, which contains Bell County, listed a 4.99% hospitalization rate from the virus this week. This rate is under the required seven straight days of hospitalization rates above 15% to trigger the restrictions.

Area hospitals, such as Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple and AdventHealth-Central Texas, are being affected by the rising number of cases and hospitalizations.

AdventHealth officials did not say how many beds were available at their facility, but did confirm it was starting to see a strain with increased demand.

Deke Jones, spokesman for Baylor Scott & White, said the company has seen an increase in cases recently.

“We currently have sufficient capacity and staffing to care for COVID-19 patients and others, but we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-positive patients who are requiring hospitalization and intensive care,” Jones said.

Jones said those interested in appointments for vaccinations can use the MyBSWHealth online portal or call 1-844-279-8222.

‘Slight’ rise at VA

While not seeing a large increase, William Negron, spokesman for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, said the organization also was seeing some increase in cases.

“Protecting veterans, their families and caregivers, our staff, and those in the community continues to be Central Texas Veterans Health Care System’s top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “As part of that commitment, we are carefully following COVID-19 and several variants. Locally, we are seeing a slight rise in hospitalizations; however, it is important to note the majority of these cases involve those who have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccination.”

County officials are continuing to direct residents to practice health protocols and are urging them to get vaccinated at any of the local providers.

Officials point to local stores such as H-E-B, Walmart, CVS, Sam’s Club, Target and Walgreens. People also may get vaccinated at Baylor Scott & White, which is currently offering vaccinations at four locations in Temple and Killeen.