COVID-19 cases spiked in Bell County on Thursday, as 140 new cases were identified by the Bell County Public Health District — a new daily total record.

The county has reached 1,886 total cases, with 13 deaths recorded, according to the Bell County Public Health District. At least 27,742 cumulative tests have been administered.

“We did hit a new record for daily cases today. We haven’t added any new deaths but we did add a number of hospitalizations,” Amanda Robison-Chadwell, director of the Bell County Public Health District, said.

Robison-Chadwell noted how an outbreak was identified at Indian Oaks Living Center, 415 Indian Oaks Drive in Harker Heights.

“We do have an assisted-living outbreak at Indian Oaks,” she said. “There were five cases reported to us yesterday. We did coordinate with the facility to mass test. That is underway and we will have new information about that when we receive the lab results for those tests.”

The previous daily record high for Bell County cases was 128, which were identified on June 30.

Killeen is nearing 700 cases to date with 681. Temple’s cumulative cases are at 647, Belton at 248 and Harker Heights at 119. Bell County infections, which include small towns and unincorporated areas, have now registered 191 confirmed cases.

Hospital capacity

Dr. Robert Greenberg, Baylor Scott & White-Central Texas Division’s chief medical officer of emergency services, addressed hospital capacity during a news conference Thursday at the Bell County Courthouse.

“I’m really going to just talk about our Temple Memorial Hospital,” Greenberg said. “Our total capacity is 550 beds. Our (Intensive Care Unit) has 70 beds. Currently, we have 16 patients in the ICU that have COVID-19 — 11 of those are on ventilators.”

That is an increase from five coronavirus ICU patients listed for the county on June 12.

Although Greenberg said they have just 63 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, he wants people to understand that does not mean the medical staff isn’t busy.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are busy. The place is busy, we are seeing a lot of patients,” Greenberg said. “As of today, we are currently operating everything. All elective surgeries and everything else, but we are closely monitoring it every single day.”

He stressed how the Fourth of July weekend does have Baylor, Scott & White staff worried, as they heard reports of residents not physically distancing during the holiday.

“We have not seen the impact of the activities of the Fourth of July weekend,” Greenberg said. “We are very concerned based upon reports of lack of physically distancing … we are going to see a much larger spike.”

Little Joe, others test positive

Grammy Award winner Little Joe Hernandez announced in a Facebook video Wednesday he tested positive for the coronavirus Monday, and is now home self-quarantined. He called for his fans to help protect those around them by getting tested.

“I followed all the guidelines. I wore a mask, washed my hands often and kept my social distance,” the Tejano star said. “This is just a reminder of how contagious this virus is. If you feel like you have flu-like symptoms, get tested.”

Hernandez said people have to protect themselves to protect their loved ones.

“We have to protect one another. Stay strong, keep the faith and we can beat this thing together,” he said.

Dr. Andrew Crowson, a dental surgeon, announced his office — at 1920 N. Main St., No. 104, in Belton — has been affected by COVID-19.

“In keeping with CDC guidelines and Texas State Department of Health recommendations we will close our office for 14 days. We expect to reopen July 23,” Crowson said in a statement.

All appointments scheduled during those 14 days have been canceled, and said his staff is working diligently to reschedule these cancellations.

More than a week ago, an employee of Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton tested positive for coronavirus, the restaurant announced on Facebook.

“Today we received notification that an employee tested positive for COVID19,” the restaurant posted on June 29. “We immediately contacted the Bell County Health Department and have followed all guidelines provided to us. It was not mandatory that we make an announcement, but we wanted to be as transparent as possible.”

Miller’s said masks are mandatory for all staff as well as routine sanitization procedures, employee staffing/scheduling strategies, and other protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

“Many restaurants are going through a tough time right now, and we appreciate our community’s support,” Miller’s statement said. “We will continue to do our best to keep everyone safe and follow all best practices and guidelines to the best of our ability.”

Risk assessment

Greenberg recommended residents refer to the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 risk assessment chart. The chart ranks activities on a one to 10 scale, which were determined by physicians from the TMA COVID-19 Task Force and the TMA Committee on Infectious Diseases.

“And the bottom line is really to stay at home when possible, wash your hands frequently, avoid large crowds, keep 6 feet apart and wear face coverings when around non-family members, or if you can’t be 6 feet apart,” he said.

Dr. Karen Brust, an infectious diseases specialist with Baylor, Scott & White, echoed Greenberg’s comments, and described some of the conversations she has had with COVID-19 patients.

“The stories I heard from patient after patient were very much the same,” Brust said. “There were people that were getting together for Father’s Day dinners, barbecues and graduation parties. Everybody kind of started off with a tickle in their throat.”

Brust stressed how there are technically zero treatments that are 100 percent effective for treating COVID-19.

“We say that it’s supportive care alone. For us, that means taking care of the patients, looking at their vital signs and supporting with IV fluids and oxygen,” she said. “When we do get to a more severe case, then we tap into some more experimental therapies.”

Brust said she has begun thinking of asymptomatic individuals at businesses as potential future COVID-19 patients.

“If I’m sitting and having lunch with my friend, maybe we’re actually in a pre-symptomatic phase, because you might be contagious for about two days before you develop any sort of symptoms,” Brust said. “You have to be very cognizant of what’s really going on and mask when we are with people when we can’t meet that physical distancing.”

Fighting the virus

Dr. Umad Ahmad, chief medical officer of AdventHealth Central Texas and AdventHealth Rollins Brook, echoed his colleague’s sentiments, adding the importance of the community’s help in fighting this virus.

“I want to re-emphasize the help we need from the community,” Ahmad said. “The community is our best support, and the community is going to help us to flatten this curve. Please watch those small things and that will help us mitigate this virus and the spread of this.”

Calee Travis, chief nursing officer at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights, noted how masks are still one of the most effective ways of hindering the spread of COVID-19.

“The best thing we can do as a community is to make sure we’re wearing our masks,” she said. “I see a lot of people that don’t want to wear their mask, but it is one of the best things we can do to help prevent the spread of this virus.”