Coronavirus

The number of COVID-19 cases reported in July, which is nearly halfway over, has blown past June’s record.

With 160 new COVID-19 cases reported since Friday, Bell County Public Health District data shows that 928 infections have been reported since July 1. Last month, 856 cases were recorded.

“Today we reached 2,137 cases in Bell County,” Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell said Monday. “We did see a dip in the number of cases reported per day since (Thursday), but it is too early yet to say that recent actions taken have had an impact.”

Some of those recent actions include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate and banning of gatherings of 10 or more people.

Robison-Chadwell pointed to Thursday because that was when the county set a new record high: 140 new coronavirus cases in a single day. That was 12 more than the 128 reported on June 30.

The health district reported 69 new infections on Monday, 38 on Sunday and 53 on Saturday.

Young residents continue to fuel Bell County’s number of coronavirus cases.

“We can still see cases being driven by those under 60 — with the 20-29 demographic, in particular, making up 24.5 percent of all cases,” Robison-Chadwell said of the 524 Bell County 20-somethings who have tested positive for the virus.

Bell County residents younger than 60 account for 1,721 cases — or 80.5 percent of all infections. The remaining 416 cases are residents older than 60.

No additional deaths or recoveries were reported Monday.

“We added some additional hospitalizations and will update our recovered numbers after confirming some of those figures,” Robison-Chadwell said.

The health district reported nine new hospitalizations since Friday. That increased the county’s cumulative hospitalizations to 156. The number of people who have been admitted to an intensive care unit remained at 43.

‘State of significant community spread’

As coronavirus cases continue to climb so does the county’s rate of positive tests.

Bell County’s COVID-19 positive test rate has more than doubled since June 16, the day when the health district started reporting the figure. As of Monday, it was 7.34 percent. Nearly a month ago, it was 2.8 percent.

At least 29,107 tests have been performed in the county.

“As a reminder please continue to take all possible precautions with regard to COVID-19,” Robison-Chadwell said. “We are in a state of significant community spread and therefore, everyone should assume that they are going to encounter someone with the virus when leaving their home.”

She urged residents to continue practicing social distancing, wearing a mask while out in public, avoiding gatherings, frequently washing their hands and do not go out if they are sick.

Dr. Karen Brust, an infectious diseases specialist with Baylor Scott & White Health, said last week that a “magic bullet” — one way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — does not exist.

“I really think it’s layered efforts of prevention,” Brust said, stressing that staying 6 feet apart is important and is a person’s best way to decrease their risk of contracting the virus. “But I also think the virus is going to be with us for potentially years to come and I think it’s kind of time to learn to live in connectivity with this virus.”

Harker Heights nursing home outbreak

Bell County’s top public health official provided an update on a COVID-19 outbreak at Indian Oaks Living Center, 415 Indian Oaks Drive in Harker Heights. At least 21 people at the long-term care facility have tested positive.

“Indian Oaks has undergone testing and, while some tests are still pending, preliminary results include 11 residents (this includes the positive that prompted testing) and 10 employees. Additional results will be shared when received,” Robison-Chadwell said.

The outbreak was disclosed Thursday during an online news conference from the Bell County Courthouse. At that time, Indian Oaks Living Center reported five cases.

Bell County Jail infections

At the Bell County Jail in Belton, Bell County Judge David Blackburn said Monday morning that five inmates currently have the virus.

Of the 780 people incarcerated at the facility, 184 are in quarantine because they may have been exposed to COVID-19, Blackburn said.

“Quarantine means simply that they have been exposed ... to a positive case of COVID but are not symptomatic, so for those purposes we have quarantined them,” the county judge said.

The Commissioners Court unanimously approved a $150,000 budget amendment to add 15 corrections officers at the Bell County Jail.

Blackburn said the jail is down 14 or 15 corrections officers because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The current budget calls for 165 corrections officers. With the new positions, the county will have a budgeted 180 corrections officers.

“This authorization will help with that in terms of filling those staff positions and it also is consistent with the multi-year budgeting plan the sheriff has presented in terms of staffing requirements at the jail,” Blackburn said.

It will take about a month before a new corrections officer is working at the jail, Blackburn and Commissioner Russell Schneider said.

The commissioners unanimously agreed to stop providing hazard pay to jail personnel who work in parts of the facility with COVID-19 infections. Those employees were the only jail personnel who received hazard pay since June 4. Previously, the Commissioners Court approved hazard pay from May 27 to June 3 for all jail personnel and pretrial services employees.

“The sheriff’s department has come forward with the recommendation that hazard pay cease, and that’s what this item would do — to cease that pay,” Blackburn said.

Coryell, Lampasas counties

Coryell County reported 191 coronavirus cases, an increase of 27 from Friday. Of those, 109 are reported active and 78 recovered, with four deaths. Those figures don’t include inmates in Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities in the county. Most of the other cases, 96, have been reported in Copperas Cove.

Lampasas County has 73 total confirmed cases, up by 15 from Friday, County Judge Randy Hoyer reported. Of those, 35 are active with two patients in the hospital and no deaths.

FME News Service contributed to this story