Coronavirus pandemic

Bell County Judge David Blackburn said Monday the current situation regarding the coronavirus was concerning and he hoped to prevent a backslide.

Cases of COVID-19 continued to rise in the county over the weekend, according to the Bell County Public Health District.

The district’s online dashboard showed Monday that the county has 499 active cases of the virus — 78 more than the figure reported Friday. The dashboard did show the number of deaths has remained steady at 469.

The incidence rate of cases in the county has also risen to 137.5 cases per 100,000 people.

 “All of this is concerning from my chair,” Blackburn said. “We have made great progress over the past several months, and I don’t want to see us take any steps backwards as we continue to work our way through this pandemic. And I really don’t want to see the state coming in and issuing any more mandates.”

So far the county has seen a total of 23,460 reported cases of the virus and 22,492 recoveries.

Blackburn said he had talked to the county’s three major health care providers — Baylor Scott & White, Seaton and AdventHealth — over the weekend, noting their concern over the current situation.

Two of the three providers told Blackburn that they could confirm 100 percent of their new COVID-19 patients being admitted were unvaccinated. He said the last provider told him that while they couldn’t confirm it, the same was likely true.

“The three largest health care providers in the county area all experiencing a surge of COVID inpatients in their hospitals,” Blackburn said. “All three have indicated that the number of current inpatients at this time is at the highest level it has been since March of this year. All three have indicated that they are at, or near, capacity in their inpatient capacity.”

Deke Jones, spokesman for Baylor Scott & White, said the health provider has seen the majority of its new COVID-19 patients be both unvaccinated and under the age of 50.

Jones said the hospital is still seeing an increase in its coronavirus patients and is making changes to deal with it.

“We continue to see an increase in the number of patients needing hospitalization for COVID-19,” Jones said. “While the vast majority of our patients are receiving care unrelated to COVID-19, we are carefully evaluating our capacity daily and are working with patients and physicians to reschedule non-emergent procedures in order to continue ensuring our hospitals are ready for those who need care most during this time.”

Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that local hospitalizations related to COVID-19 has reached 6.4 percent, less than half of the benchmark needed for restrictions to be put back in place.

AdventHealth-Central Texas, Killeen’s main hospital, told FME News Service last week it was under “stress” due to a surge in new coronavirus cases. It did not provide an update on Monday.

“Bed availability in our medical-surgical and intensive care units are not at crisis levels at this time,” Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights spokeswoman Lucy Taylor said Monday.

Blackburn said the health care providers he spoke to urged him to express the importance of getting vaccinated, especially for those who are over 65 or have underlying health conditions. He said the public health district is current in the process of various education campaigns and working with local school districts for vaccinations.

The providers asked that people continue to follow health protocols by wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing wherever possible.

“Vaccinations have been and will continue to be free, they are no cost to anyone,” Blackburn said. “Vaccinations can be obtained at multiple locations across the county.”

County officials said state health services plans to hold a vaccination clinic on July 30 and Aug. 1 at the Interstate 35 rest area in Salado.

Those interested in getting vaccinated can find information on the Bell County Public Health District website at www.bellcountyhealth.org.