Coronavirus

Nesting is the new normal in Bell County amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Interstate 35 — the bustling concrete traffic ribbon that cuts through Bell County and Texas’ most populated areas — appeared abandoned Sunday.

The downtowns in Belton and Temple looked like ghost towns. Activity in both cities was mostly constrained to people’s neighborhoods and, of course, grocery stores.

Neighborhoods were full of life though: Lawns were mowed, people jogged or walked and children played in their backyards.

It appears that most Bell County residents are abiding by County Judge David Blackburn’s shelter-in-place order, which requires residents to stay home except for trips to the grocery store and to work at essential businesses.

Blackburn told the Telegram on Friday that no citations for breaking the order — an act that could result in a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 180 days in jail — have been issued yet.

The number of coronavirus cases in Bell County continues to stand at 28. The Bell County Public Health District did not issue an update Sunday.

Although it appears residents are heeding the county’s top elected official’s order, Blackburn warned during a Friday news conference that more restrictions could be on the way — but not from him, though.

“I want to highlight something the governor said at a press conference a couple of days ago,” Blackburn said, introducing a statement that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said last week.

Abbott, who has declined to call for a statewide shelter-in-place order, said during a news conference Wednesday he has been dissatisfied with Texans not following their local leaders’ measures to slow the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Texas Tribune.

“It is clear to me that we may not be achieving the level of compliance that is needed,” Abbott said.

That statement, Blackburn explained, may have been telegraphing a different point to local officials across the Lone Star State.

“I believe the governor is sending us a clear message: Follow your local directives or more restrictive state directives are going to come,” the Bell County judge said. “My hope and my prayer is that what the governor is warning us about does not come to fruition.”

Blackburn has faith in his county.

“I also believe that we here in Bell County can do our part by following directives and recommendations that have been issued,” the county’s chief executive said. “And if we do that, we can impact what the governor does or does not do in terms of imposing stricter and more stringent guidelines across the state. I urge you to do your part in mitigating the spread of the virus.”

The Commissioners Court on Monday is expected to consider Blackburn’s recent amendments to the county’s disaster declaration. He altered the shelter-in-place order, which is part of the disaster declaration, on Friday to allow churches to congregate and classified gun stores as essential business. Both changes were made to match state guidance.

Bell County infections

Person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 is occurring in Bell County, according to local health officials. All of Bell County’s major cities — Temple, Killeen, Belton and Harker Heights — have known cases.

Temple, Bell County’s second largest city, has the highest number of cases and is the only city to have a resident die from the coronavirus.

At least 14 Temple residents are infected. The cases include two women in their 20s; three women in their 30s; a woman in her 40s; two women and a man in their 50s; three men and a woman in their 60s; and a woman in her 80s, who died Thursday.

Killeen, the county’s largest city, has at least nine people with the coronavirus. The infections include a woman in her 20s; a man and woman in their 30s; two men and a woman in their 40s; a woman in her 50s; and a man and woman in their 60s.

Belton, the county seat, has two reported cases: a woman younger than 20, the youngest known person infected with the coronavirus in Bell County, and a man in his 20s.

Harker Heights has a single case, a woman in her 40s.

Rural Bell County has at least two infected individuals: a man in his 30s and a man in his 70s. The health district is categorizing infections from unincorporated areas of the county and small towns as Bell County cases.

‘Stay home’

More than 57 percent of Bell County’s known coronavirus infections are people younger than 50. They account for 16 of the 28 reported cases here.

The remaining 12 cases are older than 50, and make up nearly 43 percent of all cases here.

The county judge strongly urged high-risk populations — anyone 65 or older and those with underlying health conditions — to stay home. Underlying health conditions include those with heart disease, lung disease, immunodeficiencies, diabetes and kidney disease.

“If you fall under those categories, then I would urge you to stay home,” Blackburn said, adding that all people who can stay home should do so. “Especially for these high-risk persons, the single most (important) recommendation I can offer to you is to stay home.”

Bell County women make up the majority of cases. Nearly 61 percent of Bell County infections are women while more than 39 percent are men; 17 women and 11 men have COVID-19 here.

Blackburn wants all residents to monitor the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation, follow the county’s directives and to act responsibly.

“If you do this, we will be able to limit the impact and duration of COVID-19 here in Bell County,” the county judge said. “And, quite bluntly, we will save lives.”