The COVID-19 level for Bell County was raised to high on Thursday as a new variant is leading to an increase in new cases and hospitalizations, health officials said.
Dr. Janice Smith, Bell County health authority, said in an increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations is being seen across state and nation after holiday gatherings.
“The new variant, XBB1.5, is responsible for about 20% of new cases, and was first seen in the northeastern US, but is spreading to Texas,” Smith said in a news release issued Thursday evening.
“A rapid spread of this variant is predicted based on its increased contagiousness.”
The risk level has been updated on the Bell County Public Health District’s COVID tracker online.
The county reported 50,956 cases, including 26 reported today, with 49,603 recoveries. The county recorded 914 deaths. The incident rate is now 120.96.
Fifty-nine adults and three children are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the county dashboard. The county reports that 145 ventilators are currently available.
The community risk is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that focuses on three main factors: the number of new cases in the preceding seven days, the number of new hospital admissions during that weeklong period, and the percent of hospital beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 infection.
“The data used to determine these rates comes from cases reported by health care facilities, hospitals, and other COVID-19 testing sites, and includes both positive PCR tests as well as rapid antigen tests,” the health district said in its release. “Tests done at home or in non-clinical settings are not included in the data, so the actual number of cases is higher than what is reported. These data are reported directly to the Texas Department of State Health Services and the CDC, and the data is now updated on a weekly basis instead of daily.”
The health district’s COVID dashboard, now updated weekly, notes the changes and provides a link to the CDC COVID Tracker for Bell County data.
“With the High community level that we are now experiencing, this is a good time to refresh everyone on the tools available that you can use to help contain the spread of COVID in our county,” said Amy J. Yeager, the district’s director. “These tools include avoiding crowded indoor spaces, wearing a high-quality mask especially when it is difficult to social distance in crowded indoor settings and when using public transportation e.g., buses or planes, staying home when sick, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and getting tested if you have symptoms that might be COVID-19. Vaccination also continues to be critically important.”
The community burden level in the county had been low since it was decreased from medium on Aug. 26.
A COVID-19 booster is highly recommended for people who received the initial series of the vaccine, Yeager said.
“For persons who have not been vaccinated, it is not too late, and vaccine is widely available at local pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics, including the Bell County Public Health District. To find a location near you, go to www.vaccines.gov,” Yeager said.
Michael Blomquist, Harker Heights City Councilman and chairman of the county health board, recommended people use safety guidelines to prevent further infections.
“If everyone will remember to practice the basic hygiene principles of hand washing and staying home when you are sick, we can help control the spread of COVID-19 in our community, protect our fellow citizens, and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed again,” he said.
For the latest updates on Bell County COVID-19 cases, visit www.bellcountyhealth.org.