By Cassidy Pate, News Editor
Bell County Emergency Management held a press conference on Thursday, May 7 to provide updates on COVID-19, or the coronavirus. Bell County Judge David Blackburn was joined by Bell County Public Health District (BCPHD) Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell and representatives from two local healthcare facilities.
As of Tuesday, 214 cases had been reported in Bell County with three fatalities and 144 recoveries per the BCPHD’s dashboard which can be found on their website at https://www.bellcountyhealth.org. In the state of Texas, 41,048 cases had been reported with 1,133 fatalities and 22,674 recoveries per the Texas Department of State Health Services dashboard which can be found on their website at https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/coronavirus/. 1,342,594 cases had been identified nationwide with 80,820 fatalities per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Over the course of 16 days, Blackburn said Bell County underwent a flattening of the COVID-19 curve. On April 20, eight cases were reported, and three cases were reported on the 16th day, May 6. However, he stated that, in accordance with Phases I and II of the reopening of Texas, we must continue to follow Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Orders.
“…there’s a lot of people out now and moving around, so it’ll be interesting to see if those case numbers continue to be along the same level that they have been for the past 16 days,” Blackburn said.
As of Thursday, Blackburn said there had been 248 complaints with no arrests or citations. He attributed this to the cooperation of businesses.
Bell County has seen a significant increase in testing, Blackburn said. With 8,720 cumulative tests being given in Bell County and approximately 3,000 of those taken since April 30, Blackburn revealed that Bell County is in good hands in terms of testing.
“My scent is, from the Bell County perspective, we do have adequate testing sites across the county, and the numbers seem to reflect that also in terms of the number of the tests that have been run over the past week or two weeks or so,” Blackburn said.
In terms of the economic impact that COVID-19 has had on Bell County, Blackburn said it is too early to make a complete or accurate assessment, as there is not enough historical data on factors such as sales tax revenue or property valuations, which impact property tax revenues – two of the primary sources of revenue for the county.
“That said, I think we’re in good shape from a budget standpoint as we approach the last fiscal quarter of this fiscal year,” Blackburn said.
The real challenge is going to be assessing and planning for the next fiscal year, Blackburn said. He also dove into the importance of oil and gas revenue to the Texas economy.
“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, which means that for the remainder of this fiscal year and going into the next fiscal year, I think that demands that we exercise a lot of caution as we go into our budgeting process going forward,” Blackburn said.
Plans for the future
Although the future of our community, state, nation and world is unpredictable at this time, Blackburn said Bell County is taking the necessary steps to prepare for whatever comes our way.
“While new viruses, novel viruses, are nothing new in the sense that we have seen those occur in the past, and I anticipate we’ll see them again in the future, what is very new is our response to this virus,” Blackburn said.
That being said, Bell County Emergency Management is doing three things to prepare: 1) assessing protective emergency equipment (masks, gowns and gloves), 2) “hardening” their facilities to ensure future business (including the July 14 elections) is conducted in the safest manner possible, and 3) reviewing their internal health standard protocols.
“We’re reviewing, internally, our own health standard protocols in terms of what we need to be doing and how we need to be conducting business inside the county and for the residents that we serve,” Blackburn said.
Regarding the reopening of school districts, Blackburn said it is dependent on the state government, as little county authority has been given from the state government regarding the reopening of school districts. However, Blackburn did say that he has been in communication with almost all of the area’s school superintendents during this time and said preparing multiple opening plans is a good technique for the fall.
“I do think it’s extremely important, and especially over the next week or two, for all of us in Bell County to continue to practice the health protocols that our health authorities have been recommending since day one in this event,” Blackburn said. “As businesses reopen, as all of us begin to resume some normalcy, practicing those social protocols, distancing protocols will help us maintain this, so I would urge you to continue to do that.”
Updates from local healthcare representatives
Executive Director for Quality and Safety of AdventHealth Central Texas Karen Percell said AdventHealth is continuing to implement a “COVID ready” stance.
“Knowing that this virus is not going away, we are assuming that our healthcare environment looks different and will continue to look different,” Percell said. “To facilitate that, we are offering public safety as our priority and our staff safety as our priority as weThis includes focusing their daily attention on personal protective equipment (PPE), bed and ventilator availability. 100 percent of their employees have been tested and will continue to be monitored to protect both themselves and their patients.
In addition, AdventHealth is restricting visitors and screening all patients, visitors and staff.
Screening is being conducted prior to entrance, everyone who enters is required to wear a mask, and preoperational screening and testing is being employedDr. Robert Greenberg, Chief Medical Officer of emergency services, Baylor Scott & White – Central Texas Division said Baylor Scott & White Health has introduced the COVID-19 Safe Care plan to promote the safety of their community.
Additionally, Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s has reopened, and Baylor Scott & White is slowly ramping up services and surgeries, Greenberg said.