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Bell County sees 'continuous increase' in COVID-19 cases, reports Level 3 threat

What does this mean for our local-area hospitals?

BELL COUNTY, Texas — Bell County's COVID-19 threat level is now at Level 3 following an uptick in average cases being reported this month, according to the Bell County Public Health District (BCPHD). 

Level 3 indicates that there is "moderate, controlled transmission," BCPHD reports.

“We saw a slight increase, which seemed to be related to an isolated event upon investigation,” Interim Health District Director Nikki Morrow said in a news release Friday. “However, the number of new cases coming in each day closer to the end of the week showed a continuous increase.”

As of July 16, the county reported a total of 421 active cases.

The county also reported a seven-day rolling average of 28 cases compared to 15 cases as of July 1 (see chart below).

The day before, Baylor Scott and White Media Relations Director Deke Jones also released a statement. 

"We currently have sufficient capacity and staffing to care for COVID-19 patients and others, but we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-positive patients who are requiring hospitalization and intensive care," the statement said. 

Of course, hearing about threat levels and "significant" increases doesn't really give a clear picture of what's going on. Friday, 6 News combed through the latest available data to get a clearer picture. 

To get an idea of how full our hospitals are, we looked at the data for the state Trauma Service Areas  that include our local counties.(you can see a map here

In TSA L, which includes Bell County the percentage of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than doubled in the last five days. On July 10, only 2.5 percent of all the areas hospitalizations were due to COVID-19. As of July 16, 5.62 percent of hospitalizations were due to COVID-19. The area that included bell county still had 101 hospital beds available. 

TSA M, which includes McLennan County, has gone from 2.7 percent of all area hospitalizations to 3.6 percent and has 106 hospital beds still available. 

To put those percentages in perspective, a Trauma Service Area previously had local bars shut down when COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 15 percent, which is still a long way away. 

Additionally, local and state health officials said almost all people now being hospitalized for COVID-19 are people that had still not been vaccinated. 

"When specific hospitals have shared that information recently – both in Texas and nationwide – it seems like it’s always “all” or “nearly all” patients not fully vaccinated. I expect that’s the case across the state," Department of State Health Services Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen said.

"If you look at the statistics, they say that 92 percent of the people who are getting this virus were not vaccinated," Bell County Public Health District Chief Epidemiologist Costa Claver said. 

The good news, people who already got the vaccine have a very low chance of getting the variant. Claver was able to put that percentage around 8 percent. 

Scott and White Chief Pathology and Lab Medicine Officer Ari Rao previously told 6 News the chance of getting infected after being vaccinated was even lower. 

"If you got the vaccine you have less than a five percent chance of getting the virus and getting sick, Rao said. "The number of people who are admitted are even less than that." 

6 News asked multiple Bell County hospitals how many cases they were currently seeing Friday. Seton Medical Center was the only hospital to provide an answer. 

"We currently have six COVID-19 patients at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights (SMCHH). Keeping quality patient care as a top priority, our Emergency Department is open, ready and able to manage all types of medical emergencies," the hospital's statement said. 

“The majority of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients we are caring for have not been vaccinated. The importance of being vaccinated cannot be overemphasized,” said a second statement from Chief Nursing Officer Calee Travis.

“We need to continue to watch the cases coming in and encourage those unvaccinated to get vaccinated or protect themselves by following CDC guidelines,” Morrow said.

Healthcare leaders are continuing to monitor the incidence rate and hospitalizations.

To go to the Bell County COVID-19 dashboard, click here.