Coronavirus

Black Bell County residents are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to new demographic data released Wednesday by local health officials.

The Bell County Public Health District released a racial and ethnic breakdown of residents who have tested positive for coronavirus. This is the first time demographics have been released on Bell County cases.

The new figures show black residents account for 32 percent of local infections. However, 2019 Census estimates show black residents are 24.4 percent of the county’s population — an almost 8-percentage point difference.

The release of demographics coincided with a nine-person increase in local infections and nearly 700 additional tests being performed in Bell County since Tuesday. So far, 5,359 tests have been conducted in the county.

The Bell County Public Health District’s case total is 174 while the Texas Department of State Health Services reported the county’s tally at 180 — a figure that includes Fort Hood soldiers who live on base and that lags about a day behind local numbers.

Blacks in Bell County are the only demographic that have tested positive for COVID-19 at numbers greater than their estimated portion of the county’s population.

“It doesn’t surprise me. I think that is nationally known that blacks get it disproportionately,” Temple NAACP President Bennie Walsh told the Telegram. “That has a lot to do with our health records and the way we take care of ourselves. I don’t think it’s news to anybody.”

Black populations across the United States have been hit hard by the coronavirus. ProPublica — an independent, non-profit investigative news organization — reported earlier this month that the disease is spreading at a higher rate in the black community with environmental, economic and political factors only exacerbating the rates.

That is happening in Texas, too, according to Texas DSHS COVID-19 data. Black Texans are almost 17 percent of confirmed cases and 14 percent of deaths in the state. Blacks, though, are an estimated 12.8 percent of the Lone Star State’s population.

NAACP leaders from around the nation have been discussing the coronavirus’ effect on black Americans, Walsh said.

“I’m not shocked by it,” he said, adding he has sought local demographic COVID-19 data for some time now. “I have been on several Zoom calls with the NAACP and we’ve been discussing it. It’s not a shock”

Other demographics

For comparison, white residents are 54 percent of the county’s coronavirus cases — a majority — but that figure is almost 12 percentage points lower than the Census’ demographics estimates.

Census figures show that residents who are white alone — which includes individuals who are Latino — are 65.8 percent of Bell County’s population. Residents who are white and not Hispanic or Latino are 44.8 percent of the population.

Latino Bell County residents are 21 percent of all COVID-19 cases while non-Hispanic residents are 67 percent. Latino residents are 25.3 percent of the population here, according to Census estimates.

The health district’s dashboard does not compile race and ethnicity into a single chart — a common practice, one that the Census uses for population estimates and one that the Texas DSHS uses for its demographic breakdown of state COVID-19 cases. The Bell County dashboard separates cases by race and ethnicity in two different charts.

Bell County residents of Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander descent and other races are a total of 4 percent of local infections.

The remaining 10 percent of infected residents did not report their race to the health district.

“Racial and economic identifiers are voluntary. We ask and not everyone is comfortable with sharing that information with us and it’s not enforceable to share that information, so we don’t have that data for every single case,” Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell said during a news conference last week.

City, age breakdown

The county’s new cases include:

• Four Killeen residents — a white man in his 40s; a Latina in her 20s; a black man in his 40s; and a black man in his 50s

• Two Temple residents — a white man in his 20s and a woman in her 30s who did not report any demographic information

• A Harker Heights woman in her 30s who did not report her race or ethnicity

• And two rural Bell County residents.

Details on rural Bell County cases — which include people who live in unincorporated areas and small cities — are not included in the health district’s dashboard.

The number of recoveries remained at 73. Three Bell County residents have died from the coronavirus.

Killeen still has a plurality of local cases. Bell County’s largest city has 77 cases. That is slightly more than 44 percent of local cases.

The number of infections in Temple increased by two to 45 while Belton remained at 19. Rural Bell County jumped to 18, and Harker Heights’ total increased to 15.

Slightly more Bell County women have tested positive for the virus than men, 51 percent to 49 percent.

People in their 50s continue to be the largest group affected by COVID-19, with 38 cases. People in their 40s are the next largest group, with 37 cases.

Other age groups that have tested positive include 31 in their 30s; 25 in their 20s; 21 in their 60s; 12 in their 70s; seven who are younger than 20; and three in their 80s.