By Cassidy Pate, News Editor
Due to the development of five presumptive positive COVID-19, or coronavirus, cases in Bell County, Bell County Judge and County Emergency Management Director David Blackburn declared a local state of disaster, effective Wednesday at midnight.
Dr. Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, Director of the Bell County Public Health District (BCPHD), said all five cases are the result of travel history. Community spread of COVID-19 has become evident throughout Texas, and Chadwell included that it is present in every state at this time.
For reference, Chadwell revealed a few data points:
- As of Wednesday, Bell County has five presumptive positive cases: one in Bell County (Belton’s extraterritorial jurisdiction), two in Temple, one in Belton and one in Killeen
- Texas Department of State Health Services update: 697 kits have been tested in public labs and 1,210 kits have been tested in private labs for a total of 1,907 tests run in Texas
- Total cases statewide: 83 with two fatalities
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nationwide: 7,038 cases with 97 fatalities
Because of these data points, Bell County has transitioned into to stage three of the Bell County COVID-19 Action Plan which will remain in effect for seven days with the possibility of extension at the conclusion of those seven days.
“This means that all measures of stage one and stage two remain in effect,” Blackburn said. “Stage three means that the disaster declaration is being issued.”
The Local Disaster Declaration for Public Health Emergency includes the issuance of Directive #1, outlining the prohibition of gatherings of 50 or people in Bell County until further notice for the protection of vulnerable members of the community – individuals over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions. Additionally, individuals over the age of 65 are encouraged to cancel, reschedule or not attend events or gatherings of 10 or more people.
Cancellation of public or private gatherings – both indoor and outdoor – in the following locations: restaurants, settings with on-premise alcoholic beverage consumption, or bars, and indoor recreational facilities is being enforced. With this, restaurants are permitted to continue take out, delivery or drive-through or drive-up services. Exceptions do exist with the understanding that social distancing must be practiced in transit locations, such as airports, bus stations or terminals, office spaces, public and private schools, child-care facilities, residential units, commercial retail locations, hospitals and medical facilities.
Failure to comply with Directive #1 is a punishable offense of up to a $1 thousand fine per day or confinement in jail for a term of 180 days or less.
With this, Blackburn emphasized the importance of the CDC’s recommendations to actively practice social distancing, personal hygiene procedures and staying home if you are sick.
“Those recommendations are intended to diminish or mitigate the impact of the virus, and if we follow those recommendations, that will occur, so please do so,” Blackburn said. “Remaining calm is also one of our best defenses in this event, so I would urge our residents in Bell County to do that.”
He concluded by acknowledging for the cooperation and collaborative efforts of Bell County persons and entities during these unprecedented times.
Representatives from the area school districts and local governments then took to the microphone to address similar sentiments and their dedication to safeguarding the citizens of Bell County.
Temple ISD and Killeen ISD are mirroring one another in that their students are set to return to school on Monday, March 30. Belton ISD announced that it would be extending campus and facility closure through April 3, and classes are set to return on Monday, April 6.
All three superintendents communicated their appreciation for their individual district’s patience, as well as the collaboration between Bell County administrators and officials that has taken place over the past few weeks. During this extended time of closure, each district will employ alternative off-campus instructional methods for its students which will be defined and released later this week to early next week.
“We are one big unified team in all of this, and we thank everyone for their support, their hope and their dedication to keeping our community safe in all of this time,” Belton Superintendent Dr. Matthew Smith said.
In addition, the mayors from these three cities addressed widely discussed concerns due to the pandemic at hand. Killeen Mayor Jose L. Segarra, Temple Mayor Tim Davis and Mayor Marion Grayson reassured the region that city services will continue to be administered throughout Bell County.
“This will be our new normal for a little while, so we need to be ready for it and be prepared,” Grayson said. “As far as the city goes, all our city services are still intact.”