In response to the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19, or coronavirus, being identified in Belton, a situational update briefing was held at the Central Texas Council of Governments (CTCOG) on Friday to inform and communicate the steps being taken to prevent its spread throughout Bell County. This case placed the county in stage two of the Bell County COVID-19 Action which pertains to social distancing, or maintaining six feet of distance from other persons, and avoiding physical contact with other persons in social and workplace settings in addition to the personal hygiene measures presented in stage one.

Because this is a new strain of the coronavirus, COVID-19, the test being used is brand new, Dr. Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, Director of the Bell County Public Health District (BCPHD), said. Therefore, “presumptive positive” cases are being treated as positive due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) discovery that the accuracy of the test has been spot-on thus far.

“I would not be surprised if that ‘presumptive’ drops off at some point,” Chadwell said.

Although the BCPHD does not require their healthcare providers to notify them for every test given, they do offer guidance when requested.

“There was a comment that local health departments are the place to go to receive testing; that may be true in some jurisdictions, but I will emphasize Bell County Public Health does not have testing capability,” Chadwell said. “You do need to report to your provider or your local hospital.”

With this, Chadwell asked that Bell County residents not rush their healthcare facilities.

“We need to protect those with comorbid conditions who are likely to be in those facilities, so if you do not have symptoms severe enough to seek supportive care, that you please stay home, self-isolate, engage in self-care, and if you do feel the need to report to your medical provider, please call them in advance to let them know you are coming,” Chadwell said. “They may have some protocols in place for taking new patients that suspect COVID-19.”

Regarding self-isolation, Chadwell referred to as an effective resource for home kit tips and self-isolation strategies.

Bell County Judge and County Emergency Management Director David Blackburn emphasized the importance of remaining calm, not panicking and making preparations should stage three of the action plan go into effect. Stage three relates to community spread of COVID-19, upholds the measures put into place by stage one and stage two and involves the issuance of restrictions and/or prohibitions of mass gatherings and/or the movement of people by Bell County and/or BCPHD.

Postponing and/or canceling events has become a widely discussed subject matter, and Blackburn addressed these concerns by stressing emergency preparedness.

“We are encouraging social distancing, and if you can conduct your event or your activity and manage that social distancing, then you should be ok,” Blackburn said. “If you can’t do that, then we need to make an assessment about the number of people at your event, the demographics of the people that are attending your event, a variety of factors, but ultimately the event organizer is the one right now that needs to make that determination.”

Regarding temporary school closures, Blackburn said he has been in constant contact with area school districts, and they are collectively collaborating to establish a plan that is conducive to the communities they serve and ensure the safety of the students, faculty and their families.

Blackburn advised enhanced disinfect practices across the county and encourages employers, businesses and organizations to do follow the guidelines set forth by the Bell County COVID-19 Action Plan.

Additionally, continuity of service operational plans are being produced, for if a significant workforce component is impacted, then there is a way to fill that role. Likewise, Chadwell communicated the importance of continuity of operations plans.

“These are plans that agencies put into place to ensure that their base-level operations can continue in an emergency,” Chadwell said. “The health district has such plan, Judge Blackburn just outlined a similar plan for the county that emergency management has put into place, and many private entities and public agencies also have similar plans that they would need to consider based on the situation.”

It is with these precautionary measures that Blackburn said he has hope for the health of Bell County.

“I would encourage all those things to go on, but I would also encourage life to go on,” Blackburn said. “We just need to carry on; we will get through this; I promise you; we will get through this.”