Coronavirus

Although Bell County’s daily increases in COVID-19 cases have seen a downward trend since Thursday, the county’s rate of positive coronavirus tests reached a new high Monday.

The Bell County Public Health District recorded the local positivity rate at 9.11 percent — the highest figure reported. So far, 33,343 tests have been performed in the county.

An additional 155 cases and 230 recoveries were recorded since the health district’s last update on Thursday. The health district reported 40 new cases on Monday; 27 on Sunday; 35 on Saturday; and 53 on Friday.

Bell County has at least 3,036 coronavirus infections, with 1,502 residents having recuperated.

Bell County’s new seven-day average was 33 on Monday. That is a nearly 65 percent decrease since July 14 when the county saw its highest seven-day average of 94 cases. The health district has not reported this low of a seven-day average since June 24 when it was 33.

Amanda Robison-Chadwell, the Bell County Public Health District director, and Dr. Janice Smith, the county’s health authority, attributed recent decreases to residents wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Robison-Chadwell did not issue a statement Monday about the latest COVID-19 figures.

“I think part of that is because people are finally — finally — wearing masks and appreciating the social distancing,” Smith said Thursday.

While the downward trend is encouraging, Bell County’s positivity rate remains high — and nowhere near the 5 percent threshold Smith said she would like to see before students return to in-person classes.

The health district and local superintendents will review the county’s COVID-19 data every week.

“We are going to have to do that on a week-by-week basis,” Smith said. “Our hope is that we will not have to prolong closing.”

Last week, Smith delayed the start of in-person classes at Bell County schools to after Sept. 7. The Texas Education Agency recently said schools can delay opening and keep their state funding if local health authorities ordered campuses to remain closed.

The Belton and Killeen school boards today plan to formalize their decisions to move the start of school to Sept. 8. The Temple school board is expected to do the same on Wednesday.

Temple and Belton school districts have already announced their intentions to move the first day of school.

However, Killeen ISD has not yet confirmed moving the first day of school, Taina Maya, chief communications and marketing officer at KISD, said.

“Based on the guidance from the Bell County health authority, my recommendation to the school board is going to be to start school on Tuesday, (Sept. 8), instead of on Aug. 19,” Belton schools Superintendent Matt Smith said in a video message to parents. “This additional time will help us prepare and work with our staff members. It’ll also help ensure that each and every student in Belton ISD has an exceptional experience no matter what on (Sept. 8).”