Coronavirus pandemic

Along with rising hospitalizations due to COVID-19, the Bell County Health District reported a rise of 95 new cases Thursday.

The county now has 643 active reported cases of the virus — a sharp rise over Wednesday’s 548 active cases. Officials did not report any new deaths due to the virus, which remain at 470.

The incidence rate for the virus is the highest the county has seen since late February — currently at 177.2 cases per 100,000 people.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is reporting that the rise in cases statewide can be attributed to the delta variant of the virus, which accounts for most new infections.

“Tens of millions of people have been vaccinated with no ill effects,” John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner, said. “We know these vaccines are not only safe but also very effective. Achieving higher vaccination rates is essential to eliminating the threat of COVID from our communities.”

County Judge David Blackburn said the county is still evaluating its options to keep residents safe but there is a limited amount that can be done locally.

Executive orders by Gov. Greg Abbott have limited restrictions that can be put in place by counties including not allowing counties to put in place their own mask mandates and capacity limits.

Hospitalizations rise

The Texas Department of State Health Service dashboard showed Thursday that hospitalizations locally have continued to rise. The hospitalizations due to the virus have now reached 9.16 percent of total hospital capacity for Trauma Service Area L, where Bell County is located within.

Hospitalizations due to the virus must be maintained at more than 15 percent for seven days before local capacity restrictions can be reinstated.

“I will have to have some further conversations with the state to see if those directives are still in play and still allowable,” Blackburn said. “But, right now, I would say that the focus is on working closely with our health care providers and our health district to really ramp up our public education and awareness campaign to see if we can get as many folks vaccinated as possible.”

Blackburn said he understood those who didn’t want to get the vaccine, but urged those who are still on the fence to speak with both their doctor and those that they know who are vaccinated.

After getting firsthand accounts, Blackburn said he thinks most people will find that the vaccines have been good overall.

“It is your best defense for staying out of the hospital; is getting vaccinated,” Blackburn said. “So I would urge folks to do that.”

Vaccine education

On Thursday, the state health services department started a more than two-week long campaign of informational stops across the state at local Walmart stores.

Killeen was the first location department staff stopped at, spending four hours at the site talking to residents. Officials hoped to promote vaccinations for younger residents as schools look to open up and the delta variant spreads around the state.

State officials said about 75 percent of those 65 years and older in the state are vaccinated compared to 40 percent among those ages 18 to 34 and 26 percent for those between 12 and 17.

“Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are now rising across all age groups,” Hellerstedt said. “While fewer young people get very sick, they can get and spread the virus, and we are still learning about the long-term effects.”