Coronavirus pandemic

Trauma Service Area L — which includes Bell County — continued to see the highest percentages of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas for the sixth straight day Tuesday, prompting the county health district to raise the local threat level.

The Texas Department of State Health Services showed on its dashboard that COVID-19 cases in the service area now accounts for 12.41 percent of total hospital capacity. The number of active cases in Bell County also rose to 793, according to the public health district.

In response to the continued rise of cases and hospitalizations, the Bell County Public Health District announced Tuesday that it would raise the local COVID-19 threat level. The threat level rose from Level 3, moderate, to Level 2, significant

Nikki Morrow, interim director of the district, said the vast majority of new cases have been among the unvaccinated.

“The greatest risk right now in our community is to those unvaccinated,” Morrow said in a news release. “Due to the significant increase in cases in our community, even fully vaccinated individuals should consider wearing a mask when in crowded public indoor settings, especially those who are more vulnerable, including those who are over age 65 or immunocompromised.”

State executive orders issued by Gov. Greg Abbott require the hospitalization rate to stay above 15 percent for a week before capacity restrictions for businesses can be put in place.

On its online dashboard, the Health District showed that the county now has an incidence rate of 218.5 cases of the virus per 100,000 people. Deaths in the county, however, remained at 471.

Deke Jones, spokesman for Baylor Scott & White, said the health care provider has seen an increase of hospitalizations due to the recent spike of cases.

Many of the new hospitalizations, Jones said, have been those under the age of 50 who are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. He said the delta variant, which has a viral load 1,000 times greater than earlier forms of the virus, has spread more rapidly among the unvaccinated.

Jones said the health provider is encouraging everyone — especially pregnant women — to get vaccinated.

Jones said evidence showing the safety of the vaccines during pregnancy is growing while the impact of the virus on these women is significant. He said the virus is three times more likely to send a pregnant woman to the intensive care unit and be put on a ventilator.

“Over 100,000 pregnant women have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and there have been no safety concerns for pregnant women who were vaccinated or their babies,” Jones said.

Belton Mayor Wayne Carpenter encouraged residents to get vaccinated during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Carpenter asked that those who had not been vaccinated do so, along with their friends and family members.

“I’ve been in contact with health officials, Baylor Scott & White officials and we have a serious situation in Belton and Bell County,” Carpenter said. “We have a very low vaccination rate. We have a high incidence of people being hospitalized and it’s very stressful for Baylor Scott & White and for the community. So please let anyone you might know to consider getting vaccinated as soon as possible.”

In total the county has seen 24,029 reported cases of the virus, with 22,765 people having recovered so far.

Morrow said vaccine locations can be found throughout the county, with residents able to go to www.vaccines.gov or text their zip code to 438829 to find their nearest vaccination location.

Staff writer Joel Valley contributed to this report.