Bell County Emergency Management held a press conference on Wednesday, May 20 to provide updates on COVID-19, or the coronavirus, and recent developments in the Bell County Jail. Bell County Judge David Blackburn was joined by Bell County Public Health District (BCPHD) Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell, Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange and Dr. Robert Greenberg, Chief Medical Officer of emergency services, Baylor Scott & White – Central Texas Division.
As of Tuesday, 309 cases had been reported in Bell County with three fatalities and 180 recoveries per the BCPHD’s dashboard which can be found on their website at https://www.bellcountyhealth.org. In the state of Texas, 56,560 cases had been reported with 1,536 fatalities and 36,375 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/. 1,662,414 cases had been identified nationwide with 98,261 fatalities per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Blackburn began by stating that a correctional officer at the Bell County Sheriff’s Department tested positive for COVID-19, a discovery the department was notified about on Tuesday, May 19. As a result, the sheriff’s department has requested a quick response force for testing assistance and assessment from the Office of the Texas Governor, Blackburn said. If employed, this task force will be testing all of the jail’s inmates and staff – approximately 1,100 people.
“It was determined that that employee had worked quite a bit the last two weeks, and not only in one position, but in a number of positions in and throughout our jail, including serving meals to our inmates, so of course we instituted different protocols to ensure the safety of our employees along with the safety of the inmates,” Lange said. “I want to reiterate, at this time, there are no active corona cases in our employees and in our inmate population. Everybody is safe at this point in time; we’re trying to do everything we can to keep it that way.”
Lange added that the department identified another employee who might have been exposed from the community but tested negative for COVID-19.
Robison-Chadwell said the sheriff’s department prepared for such an event by implementing preventative measures early on.
“In a facility like a jail environment, it can be very difficult to mitigate these kinds of infections and mitigate this kind of spread, and, again, they’ve taken a lot of steps; they did not wait for it to be at their doorstep knocking on their door; they took steps very early, and I think that’s a credit to them in this case,” Robison-Chadwell said.
These measures included temperature checks of everyone entering the jail and distribution of masks to all employees and inmates. Prior to the correctional officer contracting COVID-19 – as a result of community spread – masks were worn on a voluntary basis with increased cleaning procedures being employed throughout the jail.
Although the officer is said to not have contracted the virus from the jail’s facilities, all employees are now required to wear masks and gloves anytime they go into the community or are around the inmates to ensure the virus remains absent from the jail.
“We will continue to supply our employees and our inmates these materials until our health department assures us that everything is now safe to do without that stuff,” Lange said.
From a health perspective, Robison-Chadwell said the number of positive COVID-19 cases are continuing to stabilize in Bell County. However, on Tuesday, May 26, Robison-Chadwell released a statement regarding the unpredictability of the virus, as 31 new cases had been identified in Bell County since Friday, May 22.
“Many of these cases are asymptomatic individuals who were tested prior to scheduled medical procedures unrelated to COVID-19. These new cases include several shared households in which whole families tested positive,” Robison-Chadwell said. “Given the contagious nature of COVID-19 this is not surprising. It is anticipated that daily case numbers will continue to fluctuate.”
Greenberg spoke on behalf of a drug, remdesivir, a medication being delivered to certain hospitals throughout the state. Some Baylor Scott & White Health facilities have been chosen to receive small amounts of the drug, but each one is only getting enough to treat a couple patients, Greenberg said.
“It’s not clear how effective that medication is; it does not seem to be harmful,” Greenberg said. “We certainly welcome having it, but it’s not an essential thing that we have to treat our patients [with].”
Therefore, Greenberg said the supportive treatments that have been used for COVID-19 patients will remain intact.
He added that the number of patients at Baylor Scott & White – Temple has been consistently under 10 for the past month, with three to five in-patients per day. This meaning this facility is also observing stable numbers.