The Bell County Public Health District on Monday reported the county’s second coronavirus-related death and 10 new infections — bringing the local tally to 68.
Bell County continues to lag behind other Texas counties in the release of public information on local COVID-19 cases as the district did not release his age range nor residence in its initial update or when asked by the Telegram.
The health district’s latest update listed the newest cases as four Killeen residents, two Belton residents, two Temple residents, a Harker Heights resident and a rural Bell County resident. So far, 15 people in Bell County have recovered from COVID-19.
The health district disclosed two details about the county’s second reported coronavirus death: The person was a man who died Monday. When the health district reported Bell County’s first coronavirus-related death, it informed residents that a Temple woman in her 80s died on March 26.
Essentially, families of people who die from COVID-19 complications will control the release of public information after they are notified of their loved one’s death, Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell told the Telegram.
“As we have stated previously with regard to COVID-19 deaths in Bell County, we will release place of residence and age range of the deceased only if it is the wishes of the family,” she said. “We want to be respectful of the family at this time. Our goal is to not add to the stress and grief that accompanies death.”
Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said that the more information officials release about the pandemic, the better the public can understand COVID-19.
“Just releasing an age range or some basic information like it was somebody with a known preexisting condition or somebody who was seemingly in good health that all would help the public understand how fierce this virus is,” Shannon told the Telegram Monday evening. “It’s just a matter of keeping the public informed by releasing as much information as they can without violating the privacy of the patient involved, it helps us all.”
Brazos County, for example, released an update Monday about its seventh COVID-19-related death. The Brazos County Health District said the person who died was a man in his 80s who was a resident of the county and he was hospitalized.
Brazos County also details the number of tests performed, the number of current hospitalizations and the daily number of people discharged from a hospital.
Other counties release more than that. Dallas County’s Monday update was a detailed six-page report of its cases that listed many of the points Shannon brought up.
Keeping the public informed during this unprecedented crisis should be the goal of all local officials, Shannon said.
“In the spirit of transparency and the (Texas) Public Information Act, they ought to tell this information to the public because everyone wants to know and wants information in a time like this so they can better understand the pandemic and the real threats that are out there,” she said. “So the more information that’s released, the more the public can understand and take the right steps to help (stop) the spread.”
The Bell County Public Health District’s Monday update also saw the dates on which residents were confirmed to be COVID-19 positive change from the data released Saturday. Robison-Chadwell explained the change: “Today, a double check of the chart, which is posted and regularly updated on our website, revealed that some previously entered dates of confirmation had been incorrectly entered as the date received by public health and not the date that the lab confirmed the results.
“A staff member promptly corrected the dates and uploaded the new chart, which included 10 additional cases.”
Working on Good Friday
As local COVID-19 cases continue to climb upward, the Bell County Public Health District investigations team plans to work on Good Friday, normally a holiday for the employees. Only functions not related to investigating local COVID-19 cases will be closed Friday, the health district director said.
“Good Friday is typically a government holiday, but my investigations team will continue to work, as they have for more than a month straight,” Robison-Chadwell said. “Other business functions at the Health Department not related to infectious disease will not run.”
Robison-Chadwell remained unsure if the health district would issue updates on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
“Although we have updated the counts on the website on the past two Saturdays, we have not committed to updating the statistics every weekend,” she said. “Our staff is small and overworked right now, but we remain committed to sharing accurate and timely updates with the public.”
Local cases detailed
Temple and Killeen — the county’s two largest cities — each have 24 cases.
Temple’s cases include a male younger than 20; two women and a man in their 20s; two women and a man in their 30s; two women in their 40s; three women and two men in their 50s; five men and a woman in their 60s; two women in their 70s; and a woman and man in their 80s.
Killeen’s infection include a male younger than 20; a woman in her 20s; a man and three women in their 30s; five men and three women in their 40s; two women and a man in their 50s; three men and a woman in their 60s; and two men and a woman in their 70s.
Belton, the county seat, now has eight known cases. They are a female younger than 20; a man in his 20s; two men in their 30s; a woman in her 50s; and two men and a woman in their 60s.
Harker Heights has six cases, including a man in his 20s; two women and a man in their 40s; a man in his 50s; and a man in his 70s.
Six infected individuals are listed as Bell County cases, which includes unincorporated areas and small towns. They include two men in their 30s; two men in their 50s; a man in his 70s; and a man in his 80s.
Men are the bulk of COVID-19 infections in Bell County. They make up 57.4 percent of local cases while women account for 42.6 percent.
More Bell County residents older than 50 — 51.4 percent — are testing positive for COVID-19 than those younger than 50, now 48.5 percent.
“Health and local officials probably should release basic information about these cases so that the public can better understand the pandemic and understand the threat and take action to help prevent the spread,” said Shannon, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas executive director. “In the spirit of transparency, public officials should release as much information as possible.”