Bell County update

Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, Bell County Public Health District director, provides an update Friday on the coronavirus pandemic in Bell County at the Central Texas Council of Governments building in Belton.

BELTON — As Bell County officials confirmed Friday that the seventh reported case of COVID-19 here was the first locally transmitted infection, nearby Milam County said it identified its first known instance of the coronavirus.

“We added one in Temple, and I can now confirm we have a locally acquired case — just one so far. Community spread has started at this point in time, said Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, the Bell County Public Health District director. “This person did acquire (COVID-19) from contact with a travel-related case, but because that person did not themselves travel, this is considered community acquired.”

Robinson-Chadwell and Bell County Judge David Blackburn provided an update on the coronavirus pandemic during a Friday afternoon news conference at the Central Texas Council of Governments building in Belton. Blackburn amended Bell County’s disaster declaration to prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people, bringing local requirements in line with the state of Texas’ orders.

The newly reported case, Robinson-Chadwell said, got the disease after direct sustained contact with the travel-related infection. The two people, she confirmed, did know each other.

There are at least four coronavirus cases in Temple: a woman in her 20s; and two men and one woman, all of whom are in their 60s.

Other known local cases include a Belton man in his 30s; a Killeen woman in her 50s; and a man in his 50s who lives in unincorporated Bell County.

Milam County Public Health Director Robert Kirkpatrick said officials will not release additional information about local coronavirus cases because of the county’s sparse population.

At least 212 Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus and five people have died, The Texas Tribune reported.

Local virus testing

In Bell County, the number of tests is unknown.

“I do not,” Robinson-Chadwell said, acknowledging the health district does not know the number of coronavirus tests in Bell County.

The health district director said local hospitals are keeping track, and the inventory is constantly in flux.

“The hospitals do not send us any kind of inventory track,” Robinson-Chadwell said.

However, she added that the Texas Department of State Health Services is keeping track of the number of tests on a statewide basis.

Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple declined to detail its inventory of coronavirus tests to the Telegram.

“While we are not able to provide exact numbers, we are committed to helping our community navigate the uncertainty of this virus, making screening available to all and making testing more efficient and accessible to those who meet the criteria,” Scott & White spokeswoman Tiya Searcy said.

Texas Department of State Health Services data shows at least 5,277 people have been tested in Texas, with 1,168 being done by public labs and 4,109 in private labs. The state agency does not break that data down by county.

The Bell County Public Health District is tracking COVID-19 positive individuals’ contacts to trace the spread of the virus. That information, though, will be communicated directly to people who have come in contact with an infected person and to facilities they may have visited.

“If we need to make that publicly available in order to engage that case contact tracing, we may do that. We’ll do that if it seems advisable given what we’re dealing with,” Robinson-Chadwell said. “We hesitate to do that too frequently because you end up with a lot of calls from anyone who’s been to, let’s say a grocery store. Anyone who has been to that grocery store is calling and most of it is not going to be that fruitful. We’ll do that if we feel that is going to be helpful.”

Disaster declaration tweaks

As for Bell County’s new directives, Blackburn said there were several changes to the disaster declaration he issued Wednesday. Failing to comply with the directive can result in a fine of up $1,000 per day or up to 180 days in jail.

“As a result of the governor’s executive order, I am issuing Directive No. 2 today, and the intent and purposes of No. 2 is simply to be as consistent as we can with the governor’s executive order and what he has called for across the state of Texas,” the county judge said.

The biggest change is the banning of gatherings with more than 10 people in a single room or other confined or enclosed space. That includes auditoriums; indoor or outdoor stadiums; tents; arenas; event centers; music venues; meeting halls; conference centers; large cafeterias; or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

The directive defines a confined or enclosed space as any area that has a barrier, such as a fence, or other barriers on more than one side of the area.

It does not apply to transit areas, such as bus stations; office spaces; public or private schools; childcare facilities; residences or any type of shelter; grocery stores and other retail establishments; and hospitals and other medical facilities.

Two other tweaks included prohibiting massage parlors to operate and the closure of schools until April 3.

The Commissioners Court on Monday will consider approving the Bell County state of disaster.

Action Plan

Bell County remains at Stage 3 of its COVID-19 Action Plan. All Stage 1 and 2 guidelines apply in Stage 3.

Stage 2 guidelines require residents actively practicing social distancing by staying six feet away from each other, avoiding physical contact with people at work and at social gatherings.

And Stage 1 rules are staying home if you are sick; avoiding contact with sick people; avoid touching your face with unclean hands; cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw it away; clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces; don’t travel to areas with active community spread of COVID-19; and wash your hands with soap and water regularly and use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent of alcohol content when you cannot wash your hands.

Staff writer Shane Monaco and Janice Gibbs contributed to this report