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As Texans debate masks, Texas records nearly 300 more COVID-19 deaths

As Texans debated the ramifications of the governor’s decision to lift the statewide mask...
As Texans debated the ramifications of the governor’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate, Texas reported nearly 300 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday and the regional death toll rose to near 1,500. (File)(Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)
Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 6:58 PM CST
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(KWTX) - As Texans debated the ramifications of the governor’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate, the statewide COVID-19 death toll rose by 297 to 43,536 Wednesday and the regional toll edged close to 1,500.

As many as 1,496 area residents diagnosed with the COVID-19 have died, but according to Texas Department of State Health Services data, the regional death toll Wednesday was 1,472 including 360 Bell County residents, 17 fewer than the local count of 377; 31 Bosque County residents; 77 Coryell County residents; 29 Falls County residents; 45 Freestone County residents; 25 Hamilton County residents; 96 Hill County residents; 30 Lampasas County residents; 38 Leon County residents; 63 Limestone County residents; 440 McLennan County residents, 26 more than the local count of 414; 40 Milam County residents; 20 Mills County residents; 122 Navarro County residents, seven fewer than the local count of 129; 38 Robertson County residents, and 19 San Saba County residents.

The total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in Central Texas increased by just 103 Wednesday to 73,518.

DSHS reported 6,203 additional confirmed cases Wednesday, 4,781 of them new, increasing the statewide total to 2,304,081.

Of the total, 153,643 cases were active Wednesday, 2,450,229 patients have recovered, and 5,508 were hospitalized about 135 fewer than on Tuesday.

When Gov. Greg Abbott issued the mask mandate in July 2020, the state had 183,352 total cases, 87,385 of them active, and 2,575 deaths.

In Trauma Service Area L, which includes Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Milam and Mills counties, at least 85 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were hospitalized Wednesday, accounting for about 9% all hospitalizations and filling about 7.5% of available beds.

At least 42 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Wednesday in Trauma Service Area M, which includes McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Hill and Limestone counties, accounting for about 9% of all hospitalizations and filling about 6.5% of available beds.

Hospitalization rates in both TSAs have dropped below the level that triggered bar closures, capacity reductions and halted elective surgeries under orders Gov. Greg Abbott issued on Sept. 17 and Oct. 7.

The statewide Lab Test Date positivity rate Wednesday was 8.65% down from 8.71% Tuesday.

A positivity rate of 5% or less generally indicates the virus is contained, experts say.

The Texas Education Agency Wednesday said it will leave the decision about mask requirements up to local school boards after Abbott announced he’s ending the statewide mask mandate.

Abbott issued a new executive order Tuesday lifting most of the restrictions included in earlier orders including the statewide mask mandate and restrictions on business capacity.

“Under this updated guidance, a public school system’s current practices on masks may continue unchanged,” the TEA said Wednesday.

“Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy.”

The order applies to counties in Trauma Service Areas where COVID-19 hospitalizations represent 15% or less of hospital capacity, but it does not allow county judges to impose jail time for failure to follow COVID-19 orders or imposing penalties for failure to wear a face mask.

VACCINATIONS

School teachers and childcare workers in Texas are now eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, the Department of State Health Services announced Wednesday after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directed states to expand eligibility. The directive says “those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers,” are now eligible for the vaccine in addition to older adults and those with pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk from the virus.

CVS Health in Texas is now offering vaccines not only to residents 65 and older and those with pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk from the virus, but also to K-12 teachers and daycare workers and staff after President Joe Biden announced Tuesday he wants teachers vaccinated by the end of March.

The vaccine is available by appointment at CVS stores in Waco and Temple, but the only store in Texas Wednesday that wasn’t completely booked was in Borger.

The state is expecting 24,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine this week and another 200,000 doses next week.

The City of Teague is receiving an allocation of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine and plans to begin vaccinations on Thursday. Appointments are required and may be made online.

The state is receiving another 626,280 initial doses of Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines this week and 17,730 doses are headed to hub sites and other providers in Central Texas.

The six hub sites in Central Texas will receive a total of 14,760 doses.

DSHS data show the Bell County Public Health District, is due to receive 7,020 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week; the Coryell Health Medical Clinic in Gatesville 1,170 doses of the Pfizer vaccine; Falls Community Hospital and Clinic in Marlin 1,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine; Ascension Providence Health Center in Waco 2,340 doses of Pfizer vaccine; the Waco-McLennan County Health District 1,500 doses of Moderna vaccine, and the Corsicana-Navarro County Public Health District 1,500 doses of Moderna vaccine.

Another 2,570 doses will be shipped to other providers in the region including 1,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Baylor Scott & White in Temple; 200 doses of Moderna vaccine to the Clifton Medical Clinic; 200 doses of Moderna to Freestone Medical Center in Fairfield; 100 doses of Moderna to Brookshire’s Pharmacy No. 53 in Hillsboro; 100 doses of Moderna to Eubank Drug in Whitney; 100 doses of Moderna to Brookshire’s Pharmacy No. 54 in Buffalo; 100 doses of Moderna to Brookshire’s Pharmacy No. 26 in Jewett; 100 doses of Moderna to Brookshire’s Pharmacy No. 75 in Normangee; 100 doses of Moderna to the Texas Department of Disability and Aging Services in Mexia; 200 doses of Moderna to the Milam County Health Department, and 200 doses of Moderna to the Baylor Scott & White Clinic in San Saba.

The state also ordered 429,600 second doses.

Freestone, Hill and Robertson counties are among 26 selected for the first week of the state’s Save Our Seniors initiative to ensure more seniors are vaccinated throughout the state, Gov Greg Abbott announced Monday.

The state allocated as many as 8,000 vaccine doses for the first week of the program, which targets residents who are 75 years of age or older or homebound.

Texas Division of Emergency Management and Texas Military Department personnel will work with local officials either to set up central drive-thru vaccine clinics or to administer vaccinations directly to homebound seniors.

As of Wednesday, 94,456 or about 12.6% of the residents 16 or older in the 16 counties KWTX is tracking have received a first dose and 52,145 or about 7% have received both.

Statewide, 3,808,222 or about 15.5% of residents 16 and older have received a first dose and 2,100,141 or about 8.5% of residents 16 and older have received both.

Data Wednesday from the state vaccination dashboard showed in Bell County, 27,235 residents, or just less than 10% of those 16 and older, have received the first dose and 17,660 or about 6.5% of those 16 and older, have received both doses.

In McLennan County, 31,324 residents, or 15.6% of those 16 and older, have received one dose and 16,399 or just more than 8% of those 16 and older have received both.

In Bosque County, 16% of those 16 and older have received one dose and almost 10% have received both; in Coryell County, 9% have received one and 6% have received both; in Falls County, just more than 14% have received one and just more than 6.5% have received both; in Freestone County, almost 9% have received one and 4.5% have received both; in Hamilton County, almost 18% have received one and about 9.6% have received both; in Hill County, about 13% have received one and about 7% have received both; in Lampasas County, about 10.5% have received one, and just more than 5% have received both; in Milam County about 14% have received one and 8% have received both; in Mills County, almost 18% have received one and almost 10% have received both; in Navarro County 20.8% have received one and just more than 8% have received both; in Robertson County, 15% have received one and almost 5.5% have received both, and in San Saba County, 6.5% have received one and 2% have received both.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

BELL COUNTY

The Bell County Public Health District reported 49 additional cases of the virus Wednesday, increasing the county’s total to 20,611.

Of the total 512 cases were active Wednesday, 19,722 patients have recovered, and 377 have died, according to local data.

State data showed 360 deaths Wednesday.

We are seeing a continued rise in incidence from our decline,” health district Director Dr. Amanda Robison-Chadwell said Wednesday.

“Though some of that is expected due to the case reporting interruption experienced last month, the increase is a bit disconcerting and we hope that levels out sooner rather than later.”

“Our recommendations for prevention of COVID-19 remain the same. Please social distance and wear a mask if you cannot, keep your hands washed and stay home if you feel unwell,” she said.

The Central Texas Food Bank will distribute free food from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at Temple College at 2600 South 1st St. in Temple.

COVID-19 testing continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays throughout March at Bell County Fire & Rescue at 84 North Main St. in Nolanville.

Temple’s city hall, human resources office, historic post office, Parks and Recreation office, service center, and the Hillcrest Cemetery office, all of which were closed in November as COVID-19 cases surged, began to reopen Monday. Temple’s public library will remain closed to walk-in traffic through March 15. Municipal Court and the Utility Business Office remain closed to walk-in traffic, as well.

The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor dashboard Wednesday showed 14 active cases and a total of 328 since Aug. 1, 2020.

Texas A&M University-Central Texas Wednesday showed three active cases, one involving a student, and a total of 39 since March 2020, 28 of them involving students.

The Killeen ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed eight cases involving students and six cases involving staff members in the past seven days and 1,567 confirmed cases since March 16, 2020, 756 involving students and 811 involving staff.

The Killeen ISD is offering free COVID-19 screening to students and employees from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on regular school days at the former Nolan Middle School building at 505 Jasper Dr. in Killeen, using the 2nd Street entrance. Screening is by appointment and students younger than 18 require signed waivers from parents or guardians. The state-funded testing uses BinaxNOW nasal swab tests, which provide results in 15 minutes. Information is available online.

The Temple ISD’s online dashboard showed one case at Raye-Allen Elementary Wednesday.

The Belton ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed 11 cases across nine campuses.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

BELL COUNTY COVID-19 DEATHS

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

MCLENNAN COUNTY

The Waco-McLennan County Health District reported three more deaths from the virus Wednesday, a 72-year-old woman, a 94-year-old man and a 68-year-old man, raising the county’s death toll to 414, according to local data.

State data showed 440 deaths.

The health district also reported 46 additional cases of the virus, raising the county’s total to 25,237.

Of the total, 273 cases were active Wednesday, 24,550 patients have recovered, and 43 were hospitalized, 16 of them on ventilators.

Thirty three of the 43 are McLennan County residents.

The Central Texas Food Bank will distribute free food from 10 a.m. to noon on March 25 at Waco ISD Stadium at 1401 South New Road.

Free COVID-19 test sites are in operation in the Waco area after the federal government provided 40,000 test kits to McLennan County as part of the effort to stem the spread of the virus. The health district has contracted with Aardvark Mobile Health to provide mobile COVID-19 tests, using a small truck that can accommodate two testing lines with the capacity to administer as many as 500 tests daily. Additional details are available online.

For those experiencing disabling feelings of loss, change and sadness, short-term counseling is available through the Texans Recovering Together Crisis Counseling Program. A counselor can be requested using an online form or by calling 1-866-576-1101.

Baylor University’s online dashboard showed 392 active cases Wednesday, 389 involving students and three involving staff. Since Aug. 1, 2020, a total of 3,328 cases have been confirmed. In the past seven days, 104 tests have come back positive. Baylor is requiring weekly COVID-19 testing of students, faculty and staff. The university has decided to restrict school-sponsored international travel through the end of June. A decision on travel in July in August will be made by April 1.

The McLennan Community College dashboard Wednesday showed no active cases and 343 total cases since Aug. 31, 264 involving students.

The Waco ISD dashboard showed two active cases Wednesday at Lake Air Montessori, and 264 involving students, 280 involving staff and 15 involving those described as “other” since Sept. 8, 2020.

The Midway ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed eight cases across four campuses.

The Lorena ISD dashboard Wednesday showed one case involving an employee at Lorena Middle School.

The Mart ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed six cases at Mart Elementary School.

The McGregor ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed no active cases.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

MCLENNAN COUNTY COVID-19 DEATHS

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

CORYELL COUNTY

Coryell County had 6,595 confirmed cases Wednesday, an increase of 10, and 241 probable cases.

State data showed 6,208 patients have recovered and a 77th resident has died.

The Copperas Cove ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed 12 active cases across five campuses.

The Gatesville ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed a case involving a student at Gatesville High School and one involving a student at Gatesville Elementary.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported six cases involving employees at the Christina Melton Crain Unit; one case involving an inmate and four involving employees at the Hilltop Unit where one inmate was isolated; one case involving an inmate and 13 cases involving employees at the Alfred D. Hughes Unit where one inmate was isolated; one case involving an inmate and four cases involving employees at the Mountain View Unit where 28 inmates were medically restricted and one was isolated; 21 cases involving inmates and 16 involving employees at the Dr. Lane Murray Unit where 423 inmates were restricted and 21 were isolated, and three cases involving employees at the Linda Woodman State Jail where 163 inmates were restricted and one was isolated.

“Planning has already been underway to resume visitation at all TDCJ units soon,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday on its website.

“It will take some time to implement new procedures, but (they) will likely include the use of rapid testing and pre-scheduling of visits. It is likely that in-person visitation days will be expanded, and video visitation instituted during the pandemic will continue.”

The Cove House Free Clinic at 806 West Avenue D, Suite H, is offering free COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays. Appointments are required and may be made by calling (254) 289-9865.

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

FALLS COUNTY

Falls County had 1,835 confirmed and 158 probable cases Wednesday.

State data showed 1,845 patients have recovered.

The virus has claimed the lives of 29 residents, state data showed.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported one case involving an inmate and three involving employees at the William Hobby Unit in Marlin where 123 inmates were medically restricted and one was isolated, and two cases involving employees at the Marlin Transfer Unit.

LIMESTONE COUNTY

Limestone County had 2,077confirmed and 568 probable cases Wednesday.

At least 2,314 patients have recovered and 63 have died.

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

NAVARRO COUNTY

Navarro County had 3,384 confirmed and 2,194 probable cases Wednesday.

Of the total, 5,324 patients have recovered.

State data showed 122 deaths.

Local data from Feb. 28 showed 129 deaths.

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

OTHER COUNTIES

Bosque County had 1,307 confirmed and 290 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. Of the total, 1,433 patients have recovered and 31 have died, according to state data.

Freestone County had 1,038 confirmed and 714 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. At least 1,572 patients have recovered and 45 have died according to state data. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported six cases involving employees at the William Boyd Unit in Teague. The City of Teague is receiving an allocation of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine and plans to begin vaccinations on March 4. Appointments are required and may be made online.

Hamilton County had 693 confirmed and 50 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. At least 684 patients have recovered and 25 have died, according to state data.

Hill County had 3,653 confirmed cases and 660 probable cases Wednesday. At least 3,831 patients have recovered and 96 have died, according to state data. The Hill College dashboard showed no active cases Wednesday on the Hill County campus. The Hillsboro ISD dashboard showed two cases Wednesday involving employees at Hillsboro Intermediate School and one involving an employee at Hillsboro Junior High.

Lampasas County had 1,739 confirmed and 322 probable cases Wednesday. At least 1,798 patients have recovered, and 30 residents have died.

Leon County had 1,212 confirmed and 329 probable cases Wednesday. At least 1,356 patients have recovered, and 38 residents have died, according to state data.

Milam County had 1,339 confirmed and 1,021 probable cases Wednesday. At least 2,322 patients have recovered and 40 have died, according to state data.

Mills County had 574 confirmed and 57 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. At least 551 patients have recovered and 20 have died, according to state data.

Robertson County had 1,612 confirmed cases Wednesday and 403 probable cases. At least 1,784 patients have recovered and 38 have died, according to state data.

San Saba County had 554 confirmed cases Wednesday and 251probable cases. At least 750 patients have recovered and 19 have died, according to state data. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported three cases involving employees at the San Saba Transfer Unit, where 24 inmates were medically restricted.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

COVID-19 INFORMATION, LINKS AND RESOURCES

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