Coronavirus

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in Bell County.

The number of confirmed infections on Wednesday shattered the county’s previous record: 84 additional residents contracted the virus, according to the Bell County Public Health District. That is more than double the previous high of 41 that was reported on Tuesday and on June 12.

More so than that, Bell County Judge David Blackburn said during an online news conference that the county’s positivity rate in June had doubled from May and hospital capacity was becoming more strained.

A local doctor provided an analysis of the county’s COVID-19 figures to Blackburn.

“By his calculations, our May positivity rate, which is the number of positive cases to the number of tests, was 4.5 percent. In June, our positivity rate is now 9.3 percent. In other words, people are now testing positive at almost double the rate they were a month ago,” said Blackburn, who ordered a countywide masking requirement Wednesday.

The number of hospitalizations is a top concern for the county judge.

“The data I was given today indicates 15 hospitalized, 11 of those are in the ICU and all but two of them are over the age of 60. The two that are not (older than 60) have significant comorbidities contributing to the severity of their illness,” Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell said of the current number of Bell County residents hospitalized.

Blackburn also pointed to hospital capacity data reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

About 79 percent of the 1,008 staffed hospital beds in Bell County’s trauma service area — which covers 490,708 people in Milam, Coryell, Lampasas, Mills and Hamilton counties — are in use.

“But Bell County makes up the vast majority of the hospital bed capacity for the region,” Blackburn said.

That leaves 212 available hospital beds and 12 ICU beds, according to Texas DSHS. The state reported 33 COVID-19 patients are currently in hospitals in this area. The state also reported Wednesday 131 ventilators are available in the six-county trauma service area.

At least one hospital system in Bell County is sounding the alarm, Blackburn said.

“I have been advised by the largest private health care provider in the county that they now have, in the hospital, the largest number of COVID patients that they have had since the pandemic began,” Blackburn said, referring to Baylor Scott & White. “I also asked that institution if there were concerns about hospital capacity and their ability to continue to operate ‘business as usual.’ The answer was yes they do have concerns about hospital capacity at this point in time. This is also concerning to me.”

Robison-Chadwell sees at least two factors driving up Bell County’s COVID-19 figures. One, she said, is more testing of residents who have milder symptoms. But, she explained, that is a small piece of recent increases.

“Probably the biggest driving force here is that the young are being less cautious, which is why we’re seeing a spike in that 20 to 29 age group,” Robison-Chadwell said, noting 214 residents in that age range are infected. “If any of you spent time going around the community to look and see what’s happening, you’ll note the same thing I’ve noted — which is more gatherings, more people just pretending that COVID doesn’t exist, which is certainly not the way we should be behaving.”

Temple Mayor Tim Davis noticed that trend, too.

“One of the shocking statistics that is coming forward now is the largest demographic that is being diagnosed are those who are 20 to 29 years old,” Davis said. “Those folks are typically the healthiest among us. Even though they may not have any serious health conditions, they could possibly be taking that home to their children or taking it home to their parents.”

One sliver of good news is that nine more residents recovered from the coronavirus, according to the health district’s Wednesday update. So far, 357 residents have recuperated in Bell County.

At least 23,660 tests have been performed in Bell County, according to the health district.

The health district did not report any additional deaths Wednesday. Eleven residents have died from COVID-19.