Coronavirus pandemic

Amanda Robison-Chadwell, the Bell County Public Health District director, said she saw this coronavirus case spike coming. She expects it to get worse in the coming days.

“These are not even Thanksgiving numbers yet,” Robison-Chadwell said Tuesday, a day after the county recorded 210 cases, its single highest daily increase yet. “We won’t see those for nine or 10 days after Thanksgiving — so brace yourselves.”

Bell County’s incidence rate, which tracks the rate of new COVID-19 infections over the last 14 days, is high. It rose to 357.4 per 100,000 people on Wednesday — an approximate 15-point increase in just one day.

So far, 8,337 Bell County residents have been infected, with at least 7,040 recoveries and 112 residents dead, according to the health district.

“Our incidence rate is still on the rise as the number of new cases exceeds the number of recoveries,” Robison-Chadwell said in a statement Wednesday. “We added another significant number of cases with some added to yesterday’s tally for a new total of 118 and 93 reported so far for (Wednesday).”

If the county’s numbers continue to rise, Robison-Chadwell expects the governor’s office to intervene and issue orders to limit the spread of the virus.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he would scale back reopenings if the number of COVID-19 patients in a region exceeds 15 percent of its hospital capacity for seven consecutive days, The Texas Tribune reported. When that occurs, businesses in those regions have to reduce their occupancy to 50 percent and follow more state orders.

The health district director said local hospital capacity is strained and nearing capacity.

“Now the hospitals can flex,” she told the Belton Council Tuesday. “They have the ability to discontinue elective (surgeries). They have the ability to open up more beds. And I know that there have been discussions about doing that now.”

Robison-Chadwell said many of the county’s infections have stemmed from one person in a family contracting the coronavirus and it subsequently raging through a household

“That’s one of the reasons why Thanksgiving makes us so nervous, because it does tear right through households,” the county’s top public health official said. “Most of the time if it hits a household, it’s going to hit everybody — whether or not everybody gets symptoms.”

Asymptomatic individuals continue to fuel the Bell County’s high transmission rates, Robison-Chadwell said. These infected individuals, she said, often assume they are healthy since they are not displaying the typical COVID-19 indicators such as coughing.

“That’s what helps it spread so well,” Robison-Chadwell said.

The health district has seen a low number of residents contract COVID-19 again, Robison-Chadwell said.

“We’re at a phase now where if people are going to start getting reinfected — people who had it early on back in March and April — they could get it again,” Robison-Chadwell said. “We’ve seen people who have had COVID … go a period with no positive tests and then they test positive again. It’s absolutely happened.”

Belton Councilman David K. Leigh asked Robison-Chadwell about the likelihood of being reinfected and the period of time between catching COVID-19 again.

“There’s no good answer to that,” Robison-Chadwell said. “The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says, ‘We’re not going to give you a window because we don’t know.’”

The health district director said 18 providers have signed up to administer the vaccine. She noted the health district is reaching out to providers and recruiting them to provide the vaccine — a decision the state of Texas ultimately determines.

“We have several providers who have registered to get the vaccine,” Robison-Chadwell said. “I don’t know how many have been approved yet but they are going through the approval process.”

The health district is currently collaborating with the county government on how to manage cold storage for vaccines when they arrive in Bell County.

“The ultra-cold storage is a pretty significant requirement,” Robison-Chadwell said. “Some of those freezers run between $7,000 and $20,000. They can be pretty expensive, and there are requirements on who can provide the vaccine.”

Although Robison-Chadwell reminded residents that the health district does not plan to update its dashboard on Thanksgiving or Friday, she said officials will continue to monitor COVID-19 in Bell County.