Bell County Judge David Blackburn issued a countywide shelter-in-place order Monday after local health officials reported six new coronavirus cases — so far, the largest single-day increase — bringing the total of infections to at least 16.
“Because of the risk of the rapid spread of the virus, we need to protect our most vulnerable of our community,” Blackburn said, explaining that the shelter-in-place order was needed after consulting with local health officials. “This order requires all individuals anywhere in Bell County to stay home and stay safe — which means shelter in place except for certain essential activities and work that provide essential business and government services or provide essential public infrastructure construction, which includes housing.”
The order — which is part of the disaster declaration Blackburn issued last week and Commissioners Court approved Monday morning — begins at 11:59 p.m. Monday and will continue through 11:59 p.m. April 3.
People can still go outside of their homes to exercise, walk their dogs or even to hike as long as they maintain six feet of distance from each other. They can still shop at the grocery store or other allowed retailers and pick up their medication. Residents can leave their homes to take care of a family member or pet at another household.
Blackburn issued the order during a Monday afternoon news conference from the Bell County Courthouse that was streamed online. Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, the Bell County Public Health District director, also provided an update on local COVID-19 cases.
“I want to underscore and highlight that we are not confining folks or requiring folks to be confined to their home for all purposes and activities,” Blackburn said. “As I just read, essential activities, essential governmental functions, essential businesses all still need to continue to operate.”
Essential health care operations will continue to operate. That includes hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, mental health providers, blood banks, medical research or other similar services. This also includes veterinary care and welfare services to animals.
Some retailers will remain open under the order. Those include grocery stores, warehouse stores, big-box stores, liquor stores, convenience stores and farmers markets. Hardware stores, construction supply stores and similar facilities will stay open.
Restaurants are unaffected by Blackburn’s order. However, they must continue to provide take-out and drive-through orders only.
Car-related businesses, including automobile sales and repair places, are unaffected. Laundromats will continue to stay open.
Businesses that are needed to maintain homes or businesses — such as plumbers, electricians and exterminators — are essential.
Providers of basic needs to economically disadvantaged residents will continue to operate. Child care services can continue to operate as long as there are groups of smaller than 10 and people are kept six feet apart.
Essential critical infrastructure and activities are staying open. That includes public works construction; residential and commercial construction; airport operations; water, sewer, gas and electrical services; public transportation; solid waste collection and removal; internet and communications systems; and financial institutions.
“All essential businesses should comply with the social distancing guidelines … including (maintaining) a minimum of six-foot distancing from both employees and the general public,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said Bell County residents who are 65 and older and who have compromised immune systems or have underlying health conditions should stay home.
He urged those residents that if they need to exercise outside to do so alone; screen their visitors; do not visit homes or places with more than one person; ask all visitors to wear masks; and do not use public transportation.
Bell County’s decision comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday declined to call for a statewide shelter-in-place order. Several local governments in the state — including Dallas and McLennan counties and the city of Waco — told residents Monday to stay home. Similar orders are expected from other governments in the coming days.
There are at least 16 reported COVID-19 cases in Bell County, according to new figures issued Monday afternoon by the county Public Health District. Robinson-Chadwell confirmed Friday there is community spread.
Robinson-Chadwell told reporters that a second assisted care facility in Bell County had a positive coronavirus case. The health district reported Saturday that a Temple woman at an assisted care facility tested positive for COVID-19.
“In conjunction with Baylor Scott & White — who has been instrumental and a wonderful community partner — we were able to test the residents and staff at both facilities,” the health district director said. “We only found two staff members that did become positive. They are within that 16 reported on the website, and no other positives in either of those facilities, at this time. There may be additional tests pending, but we will update you if that turns out to be the case.”
Baylor Scott & White, Robinson-Chadwell said, tested around 300 people from those two facilities.
Most of the county’s newest cases were related to the assisted care facilities, Robinson-Chadwell explained.
Among other new cases is a Fort Hood soldier in his 30s who is assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, the U.S. Army confirmed. The soldier is in self isolation at his off-post residence, and soldiers who may have come in contact with him are self quarantining at their homes, a news release said.
Temple continues to have the most infections in the county, with at least nine cases. They include a woman in her 20s; two women in their 30s; a woman in her 50s; three men and one woman in their 60s; and one woman in her 80s.
Killeen has at least three cases: a woman in her 30s, and a man and a woman in their 40s.
Belton has at least two known infections: a man in his 20s and a man in his 70s.
Unincorporated Bell County has at least two cases: a man in his 30s and a woman in her 50s.
The county’s shelter-in-place order includes requirements for homes in which one resident has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“If someone in a household has tested positive for the virus, the household is ordered to isolate at home and follow the directives of their health care provider,” Blackburn said. “Members of the household should not and cannot go to work or school or any other community function.”
Milam County on Monday reported its second coronavirus case. McLennan County has at least 17 cases. Falls County has at least one coronavirus infection.
Statewide, there are at least 352 cases, with eight reported deaths, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The state agency also reports that 10,055 people have been tested. That data is not broken down by counties.
Blackburn told residents that everyone will get through this pandemic.
“Please remain calm. Please be considerate of your family, neighbors and friends,” he said. “Our ability to mitigate the spread of the virus though these orders and measures in the end really depends on all of us working together for the benefit of all of us.”
He stressed that COVID-19 should be taken seriously — even if you are not directly impacted by the virus.
“While you as an individual may not feel threatened or endangered by the virus, please think about your family, your neighbors and your friends that are threatened and are endangered by the virus,” Blackburn said. “I urge you to act responsibly and in the spirit of kindness toward all.”