By Cassidy Pate, News Editor
Bell County Emergency Management held a press conference on Thursday, April 23 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 three local healthcare facilities who took turns speaking about the effectiveness of social distancing, testing sites throughout the county and their continued efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, 165 cases had been reported in Bell County with three fatalities and 73 recoveries per the BCPHD’s dashboard which can be found on their website at https://www.bellcountyhealth.org. In the state of Texas, 26,171 cases had been reported with 690 fatalities and 11,786 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/. 981,246 cases had been identified nationwide with 55,258 fatalities per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Regarding the general analysis of the transmission of COVID-19 in Bell County, Robison-Chadwell said it is variable, as Bell County has undergone exposure to the virus as a result of direct links to positive cases, community spread and the early onset of travel-associated cases. She also revealed that population size is reflective of the number of positive cases in the county; for example, Killeen doubled Temple’s number of positive cases because Killeen has more residents.
Robison-Chadwell spoke to the importance of complying with the county’s mask recommendation to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“If everyone wears a mask, you are engaging in a protective measure for everyone around you,” Robison-Chadwell said.
Input from three local healthcare facility representatives
Two themes were prevalent in the communication of representatives from three local healthcare facilities: 1) social distancing, hand washing and staying home are proving successful in alleviating COVID-19, and 2) the safety and security of their healthcare teams sits at the top of their priority lists.
Dr. Robert Greenberg, Chief Medical Officer of emergency services, Baylor Scott & White – Central Texas Division praised the work of local and state government to protect the citizens of Bell County. He added that it is because of the community’s compliance with these recommendations that things are not as bad as they could have been in regard to COVID-19 response.
“Some people would say that we didn’t need to do what we did because things aren’t so bad; it’s very, very much more likely that things are not as bad as they are because of what we did,” Greenberg said.
90 percent of Baylor Scott & White’s current business is not related to COVID-19, but 110 percent of their attention is focused on preparing for it, Greenberg said.
“We’ve worked very closely with the county to discuss the care of our vulnerable populations as well as everybody else in the county,” Greenberg said.
As of Thursday, Greenberg said Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple for Bell County had given a total of 2,520 tests with 102 positives, a positivity rate of four percent. Within the hospital itself, as of Thursday there were 13 in-patients in Temple, seven in the intensive care unit (ICU), six on ventilators and six on the Medical-Surgical, or General Medicine, floor.
Regarding the day-to-day operations, their in-patient census is running at 70 percent of what they would consider normal, and the emergency department census is also running at about 70 percent of normal, which is higher than most other hospitals, Greenberg added. The children’s emergency department is running at about 30 percent of normal, and procedures and clinic visits have decreased to 30 percent of normal.
All things considered, Greenberg said Baylor Scott & White employees will be paid through the end of May. Because Bell County is not past its first peak of COVID-19, and there is data showing that there could be a potential second peak, Greenberg said their efforts will remain affluent until the virus passes.
Chief Nursing Officer for Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights Calee Travis said she is proud of the support from local businesses, restaurants and the community’s efforts to maintain the cleanliness of their facilities during this unprecedented time. Because COVID-19 is a new virus, she said responding to it has been a learning process for the entire world.
“We ramped up pretty quickly; we’re fortunate to be part of a company that has a pretty good supply chain, but even that supply chain took time to catch up,” Travis said.
That being said, she revealed that Seton Medical Center has never been without personal protective equipment (PPE) and have had adequate amounts of medical supplies. However, similar to Baylor Scott & White, there has been a “dramatic decrease” in the hospital’s volumes, Travis said. She partially credits this to the preventative measures mandated by the local, state and federal government and health authorities that have been applied to the Bell County community.
“I think it’s very true that it’s not been as bad here because of the actions that all of us took right off of the bat,” Travis said.
Chief Executive Officer of AdventHealth Central Texas Kevin Roberts expressed his gratitude toward Baylor Scott & White for their partnership, the continued faith-based practices of the AdventHealth system and the local community for their assistance during this time.
“On behalf of the healthcare providers of AdventHealth Central Texas in Killeen and AdventHealth Rollins Brook in Lampasas, I want to say thank you to the citizens of Bell County and Lampasas County…” Roberts said. “The social distancing, hand washing and self-isolation when you’re not feeling well, it really works, and as these restrictions become lifted by the governor and others, please be careful; wear your masks.”
Like Seton Medical Center, AdventHealth has never been without PPE. No layoffs or furloughs have been enforced, and the base pay of their employees has been guaranteed through June 6. Additional support has also been provided to their healthcare team, such as childcare for team members with children at home, psychological support, relaxation rooms, clean scrubs and showers for those who wish to return home feeling clean.
As of Thursday, about 575 total tests have been taken by people with symptoms, and AdventHealth had no in-house COVID-19 patients. However, the virus and other health concerns are still out there and are not to be ignored, Roberts said.
“Don’t avoid the hospital; we are protecting ourselves; we will protect you,” Roberts said.
On the topic of COVID-19 testing, Robison-Chadwell said that the time it takes to receive results is dependent on the specific testing site. When it comes to identifying positive cases, she said racial and economic identifiers are voluntary, but she hopes to share some information and analysis upon approval, should doing so prove useful.
4,661 cumulative tests had been run in Bell County as of Tuesday, and the results have been coming in approximately 24-48 hours after the test is given from the healthcare provider who ordered the test, Blackburn said.
With the demand for testing sites rising, five drive-through sampling sites have appeared in Bell County: two AdventHealth locations, two Baylor Scott & White sites and one at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights. Blackburn said more testing sites are set to appear, with Premier ER & Urgent Care in Temple planning to open one soon.
It is noteworthy that screening of the patient – determining whether they have symptoms or if they have been exposed – must be done before the test is ordered. With this, Blackburn addressed the impracticality of testing everyone.
“In terms of the number of tests that are done, from a policy standpoint, testing the entire population is neither practical nor advisable by the health authorities or by the policymakers,” Blackburn said.
Antibody testing and home testing kits
Antibody testing is a blood test that works to test whether one has developed an immune response to COVID-19, determine if one will ever develop symptoms, or if one has been exposed in the past. This test is also helpful for someone who does not have symptoms or was previously infected to see if they have developed immunity, but Greenberg said there is not yet proof that, should a test come back positive, it will protect the patient from additional infections.
Greenberg added that antibody tests are in short supply but will be made available for applicable patients – those who think they might have already been infected before returning to work – on May 1. If a patient tests positive, then measures must continue to be taken because they could be asymptomatic, Greenberg said.
No home testing kits are available at this time, and Greenberg and Roberts warned the community against bad tests.
“Just because someone says they have a kit doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a valid test,” Roberts said.
“I have no doubt there will be at-home tests offered, and I would put a big ‘buyer beware,’” Greenberg added. “Buyer beware: don’t buy a bad mask, don’t buy a test that’s bad and then act on that because a bad test or bad protection is probably worse than none whatsoever.”
In this scenario, a “bad mask” refers to a mask that has not undergone or has failed the personal fit test.
“A false sense of security is very dangerous in this situation,” Greenberg said.
Continued preventative measures
Based on what Dr. Greenberg, Travis and Roberts said concerning the compliance of the Bell County community, Blackburn urged residents to continue practicing the following preventative measures: washing your hands, staying home, practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings if/when you visit densely populated areas.
“All of those measures taken together are your best defense against this virus,” Blackburn said.