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Bell County officials, medical professionals answer COVID-19 questions

When will Bell County businesses open? Who is getting tested for the virus? Those questions and more were answered by county and medical professionals. Check it out.

BELL COUNTY, Texas — Bell County officials were joined by area healthcare professionals to provide updates on the coronavirus in the county and to answer questions about the virus response at a press conference Thursday. 

Bell County Public Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell reported two new cases at the late morning press conference, making the total number of cases Thursday morning, 141. 

An afternoon update pushed that number up six more cases to 147. Of those cases, 73 have recovered and three have died. In total, 71 cases remain active. 

Dr. Robert Greenberg with Baylor Scott & White reported that the Temple medical center currently has 13 COVID-19 patients in the hospital with seven in the ICU and six of those patients on ventilators. 

In his update on how Scott & White has handled the virus, Dr. Greenberg indicated the efforts taken by the county have worked to slow the spread of the virus.

"Currently it looks like things will certainly not be as bad as we thought they were going to be," he said. "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."

Kevin Roberts, CEO of AdventHealth Central Texas, said the AdventHealth facilities do not have hospitalized COVID-19 while Chief Nursing Officer at Seton Medical Center Calee Travis did not specify whether or not they have COVID-19 patients hospitalized. 

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Judge Blackburn said county medical facilities have tested 3,199 people for COVID-19 as of April 22. Dr. Greenberg specified that Baylor Scott & White in the area had performed 2,520 of those while Roberts reported that AdventHealth performed about 575. 

Both of them reported a four to five percent positive outcome rate on COVID-19 tests.

In addition to an update on the number of cases and testing numbers, the press conference included a question and answer portion on testing, business reopening and more.

Here are some of the points the medical and county officials made during the conference in response to those coronavirus-related questions:

Testing criteria

The medical personnel at the press conference indicated that they are testing for the coronavirus when people have all the symptoms and are severe or have had known exposure to people with the virus. 

However, doctors are still diagnosing community members with the coronavirus without testing if they have the symptoms in a mild form. Dr. Greenberg referred to it as the "duck theory," meaning if someone has all the symptoms and that person's background indicates exposure or probability, then that diagnosis will be made and patients will be treated as COVID-19 patients.

But it's handled on a case-by-case basis. 

He said this theory is also applied to flu cases with people who display symptoms and possibly had contact with another flu-carrying person.

He did make the distinction that mild cases that don't necessarily get tested can be treated at home without having to stay at the hospital. 

Dr. Greenberg said the decision to test is a "complex" one dependent on a variety of factors, which is part of the reason certain people with symptoms do not get tested for the coronavirus yet are diagnosed and treated as such. 

Drive-though testing

A handful of places performing drive-through testing are open, or will open, soon in Bell County. 

The testing will be available to people who display the symptoms or who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Drive-through testing is not available to everyone who simply wants a test done without displaying symptoms. Pre-screenings will be required before a drive-through test can be scheduled. Those hoping to have a pre-screening done can call each healthcare location in advance. 

Here are the Bell County locations conducting drive-through testing:

  • AdventHealth Central Texas in Killeen 
  • AdventHealth in Harker Heights 
  • Seton Medical Center Wellstone building in Harker Heights 
  • Baylor Scott & White Clinic in Killeen
  • Baylor Scott & White Pavilion in Temple 
  • Premier ER and Urgent Care in Temple 

Masks in public

Judge Blackburn reiterated that face masks are not required in the county, but both he and Robison-Chadwell strongly urged community members to wear them when going out into public places, like grocery stores. 

"It's a recommendation but I want to emphasize the importance of if everyone wears a mask we're engaging in protective measure for everyone around you," Robison-Chadwell said. 

Reopening Bell County

Judge Blackburn said the decision of how and when to reopen local businesses is in the hands of Gov. Greg Abbott as the issue is being handled at the state level. 

"Those decisions about reopening and the process for reopening are in the hands of the governor but he has indicated that his prime concern and prime data and factors that he looks at are going to be based on the science and data that his health authorities are providing him," Blackburn said.

On top of that, he said there are currently no county orders or directives in effect regarding the coronavirus. He said he does not intend to enact anymore, saying that he does not want a local order to "confuse or frustrate" residents with "an additional layer of rules and regulations" that would likely be preempted by a state order anyway. 

Executive order compliance

There have been 201 compliance complaints filed in the county, but Judge Blackburn said no citations have been issued for those complaints. 

Coronavirus antibody testing

Dr. Greenberg said at the press conference that antibody testing checking if someone had the virus and developed an immunity to it is in short supply right now. The test itself would be used for people who think they were infected and are returning to a place where there is someone in a high-risk population of contracting the virus, according to Dr. Greenberg. 

He added that not enough is know yet to know whether or not a person who had coronavirus and developed an immunity is safe from passing it on to someone else.

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