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‘I’m frustrated,’ local health official says after Abbott bars mask requirements

A local health official says she’s frustrated after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order...
A local health official says she’s frustrated after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that bars local governments including school districts from requiring masks to stem the spread of COVID-19. (File)
Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 7:14 PM CDT
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(KWTX) – Bell County Health Authority Dr. Janice Smith says she hopes the county’s COVID-19 cases will continue to trend downward, but she says she worries that Gov. Greg Abbott’s order barring local governments and school districts from requiring face masks could reverse some of the progress made against the virus.

“If we would’ve just stayed the course until at least the end of the school year and until the 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated, it would’ve been a much safer course. I’m frustrated,” Smith said.

Adolescents from 12- to 15-years-of-age became eligible last week for the Pfizer vaccine, second doses of which are administered 21 days after the first.

Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday that bars counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and government officials from mandating face masks effective Saturday.

Violators could be fined as much as $1,000.

Public schools may continue to follow existing mask guidelines until June 4, but after June 4, no one, including students, teachers, parents, staff and parents, may be required to wear a mask on campus.

The spring semester continues past June 4 in some area school districts, where classes started later than usual at the first of the year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance last week, and now says those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may resume activities without wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

The relaxed rules effectively make full vaccination the last line of defense against the virus and put more pressure on those who are not fully vaccinated to continue to take precautions.

“As a result of the governor’s order it is even more important for those who are not fully vaccinated to wear masks and socially distance, especially if they or those they come in contact with are at risk to develop severe COVID-19,” said McLennan County Health Authority Dr. Farley Verner.

A health authority, under the Texas Health and Safety Code is a physician who’s appointed to administer state and local laws related to public health within a county, health district or other jurisdiction.

Statewide Wednesday more than 53% of residents 16 and older have received one dose and more than 42% were fully vaccinated.

Just more than 37% of Central Texas residents 16 and older have now received first doses and more than 29% are fully vaccinated.

In Bell County, 33% of residents 16 and older have received one dose and about 25.7% are fully vaccinated.

In McLennan County, 44% of residents 16 and older haver received one dose and more than 35% are fully vaccinated.

In Bosque County Wednesday, according to data from the State Vaccination Dashboard, just almost 36% of Bosque County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; 20% of Coryell County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 26% of Falls County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 22% of Freestone County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 39% of Hamilton County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; almost 32% of Hill County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; almost 30% of Lampasas County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 30% of Leon County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; almost 26% of Limestone County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 33% of Milam County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 33% of Mills County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 35% of Navarro County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated; more than 33% of Robertson County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and 22% of San Saba County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

NEW CASES, ADDITIONAL DEATHS

The total number of confirmed cases of the virus in Central Texas rose by less than 15 Wednesday to 76,865 and one more area resident diagnosed with the virus has died.

COVID-19 has claimed as many as 1,681 lives in Central Texas, but according to the DSHS data Wednesday, the regional death toll was 1,663 including 423 Bell County residents, 11 fewer than the last local count of 434; 33 Bosque County residents; 86 Coryell County residents; 32 Falls County residents; 50 Freestone County residents; 27 Hamilton County residents; 108 Hill County residents; 33 Lampasas County residents; 43 Leon County residents; 78 Limestone County residents; 472 McLennan County residents,16 more than the local count of 456; 48 Milam County residents, one more than the local count of 47; 21 Mills County residents; 143 Navarro County residents, seven fewer than the local count of 150; 43 Robertson County residents, and 23 San Saba County residents.

The statewide death toll increased by 58 Wednesday to 49,999.

DSHS reported an additional 1,660 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 1,464 of them new.

At least 51,422 cases were active Wednesday, 2,794,891 residents have recovered, and 2,129 were hospitalized, 93 fewer than on Tuesday.

In Trauma Service Area L, which includes Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Milam, and Mills counties, at least 38 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were hospitalized Wednesday, accounting for about 4% all hospitalizations and filling about 3% of available beds.

At least 19 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Wednesday in Trauma Service Area M, which includes McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Hill and Limestone counties, accounting for about 4% of all hospitalizations and filling about 3% of available beds.

The statewide Lab Test Date positivity rate was 3.77% Wednesday, down from 3.89% Tuesday.

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

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

COVID-19 INFORMATION, LINKS AND RESOURCES

VACCINATIONS

The Department of State Health Services has notified vaccine providers across the state that they should begin to use the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to vaccinate adolescents from 12- to 15-years-of-age after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use for people in that age group and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended it, as well.

Parental consent is required for vaccination of children 12-15.

Consent may be oral or written and a parent or guardian does not need to be present when a child is vaccinated, unless required by the provider.

Baylor Scott & White says vaccination appointments for children 12 to 15 must be scheduled by calling 1.844.BSW.VACC.

The state has halted weekly allocations of COVID-19 vaccine to providers because supply exceeds demand instead will fill vaccine orders as they come in.

The state has also opened a call center at 8 a.m. to connect businesses, organizations, and homebound seniors with mobile vaccination teams.

Businesses and civic organizations with 10 or more employees, members or visitors who are willing to be vaccinated may call 844-90-TEXAS and select Option 3 to schedule a visit from a state mobile vaccine team.

Homebound seniors may call 844-90-TEXAS and select Option 1 to request a mobile vaccine team to come to their homes.

A new White House initiative should make it easier to find available vaccines.

Text a zip code to GetVax (438829), or in Spanish to Vacuna (822862), and the response will list three nearby locations with vaccines in stock.

The Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler allows residents to sign up for COVID-19 shots through a list of public health departments and select preferred times of day for vaccinations. Those without internet access may call 1-833-832-7067 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

COVID-19 INFORMATION, LINKS AND RESOURCES

BELL COUNTY

The Bell County Health District has paused updates of its local dashboard, but says updates will resume if the county’s incidence rate rises to more than 80 cases per 100,000 residents.

Stata data Wednesday, including Fort Hood personnel who live on post, showed no new cases, leaving the county’s total unchanged at 22,582.

The last local update set the virus’ death toll in the county at 434.

State data showed 423 deaths Wednesday.

At least 181 cases were active Wednesday and 21,861 residents have recovered, according to DSHS data.

The Baylor Scott & White Blood Center issued an urgent request for donors of all blood types on Monday.

“The medical center is consistently booking 60% appointments fewer than normal,” officials said.

The center is asking existing and first-time donors to visit BSWBLOOD.com or to call (254) 724-4367 to make an appointment to donate.

The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor dashboard Wednesday showed two active cases and a total of 370 since Aug. 1, 2020.

Texas A&M University-Central Texas Wednesday showed one active case and a total of 43 since March 2020, 31 of them involving students.

The Killeen ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed eight cases involving students and three involving staff members in the past seven days and 1,798 confirmed cases since March 16, 2020, including 913 involving students and 885 involving staff.

The Killeen ISD continues to offer 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 no active cases Wednesday.

The Belton ISD’s online dashboard Wednesday showed seven cases across four campuses.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

BELL COUNTY COVID-19 DEATHS

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

MCLENNAN COUNTY

The Waco-McLennan County Health District dashboard showed 27,333 total cases Wednesday, an increase of 13.

Local data showed 456 deaths, but DSHS data showed 472.

At least 164 cases were active Wednesday, 26,713 residents have recovered and 15 were hospitalized, two of them on ventilators.

The Central Texas Food Bank will distribute food from 10 a.m. to noon on May 27 at Waco ISD Stadium at 1401 South New Road.

Free COVID-19 test sites are in operation in the Waco area. Additional details are available online.

Baylor University’s online dashboard showed 15 active cases Wednesday, 14 involving students and one involving a staff member. Active cases during the spring semester peaked at 449 on March 4. Since Aug. 1, 2020, a total of 3,997 cases have been confirmed. In the past seven days, eight tests have come back positive. Baylor is requiring weekly COVID-19 testing of students, faculty, and staff through the summer. The university will not require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against the virus this fall, but is strongly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The university has provided revised guidance for the summer, eliminating capacity limitations on outdoor activities, and making face coverings optional outside. Indoors, any student, faculty member or staff member who is fully vaccinated may meet indoors with fully vaccinated people in groups of 15 or fewer without face coverings or social distancing and may also meet with groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in groups of 15 or fewer without face coverings or social distancing.

The McLennan Community College dashboard showed no active cases Wednesday and a cumulative total of 364 cases, 282 involving students.

The Waco ISD dashboard reported no active cases Wednesday and a total of 294 student cases, 301 staff cases and 18 cases involving people classified as “other” since Sept. 8, 2020.

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

The Lorena ISD dashboard showed no active cases Wednesday.

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

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

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

MCLENNAN COUNTY COVID-19 DEATHS

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

CORYELL COUNTY

Coryell County had 7,002 confirmed and 275 probable cases Wednesday.

At least 7,130 residents have recovered.

The virus has claimed 86 lives in the county, according to state data.

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

The Gatesville ISD’s online dashboard showed three cases across two campuses Wednesday.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported three cases involving employees at the Christina Melton Crain Unit where 45 inmates were restricted and one was isolated; two cases involving employees at the Hilltop Unit; one involving an inmate and seven involving employees at the Alfred D. Hughes Unit where one inmate was isolated; one case involving an employee at the Mountain View Unit; one case involving an employee at the Dr. Lane Murray Unit, and one case involving an inmate and two involving employees at the Linda Woodman State Jail where 23 inmates were restricted and one was isolated.

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 1,891 confirmed and 199 probable cases of the virus Wednesday.

State data showed at least 2,044 residents have recovered.

The virus has claimed the lives of 32 residents, state data showed.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported no cases at the William Hobby Unit in Marlin, and one case involving an employee at the Marlin Transfer Unit.

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

LIMESTONE COUNTY

Limestone County had 2,154 confirmed and 643 probable cases of the virus Wednesday.

At least 2,697 patients have recovered.

The virus has claimed the lives of 78 residents, state data showed.

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

NAVARRO COUNTY

Navarro County had 3,467 confirmed and 2,366 probable cases Wednesday.

Of the total, at least 5,615 patients have recovered.

State data showed a 143rd death in the county.

Local data last updated on March 31 showed 150 deaths.

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

OTHER COUNTIES

Bosque County had 1,371 confirmed and 309 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. Of the total, 1,630 residents have recovered and 33 have died, according to state data.

Freestone County had 1,113 confirmed and 825 probable cases Wednesday. At least 1,834 residents have recovered and 50 have died according to state data. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported one case involving an inmate and three cases involving employees at the William Boyd Unit in Teague where 57 inmates were restricted and one was isolated.

Hamilton County had 721 confirmed and 58 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. At least 742 residents have recovered and 27 have died, according to state data.

Hill County Wednesday had 3,795 confirmed cases and 716 probable cases. At least 4,369 patients have recovered, and 108 residents have died, according to state data. The Hill College dashboard showed no active cases Wednesday on the Hill County campus. The Hillsboro ISD dashboard Wednesday showed one case at the junior high.

Lampasas County had 1,855 confirmed and 337 probable cases Wednesday. At least 2,136 residents have recovered, and 33 residents have died, according to state data.

Leon County had 1,277 confirmed and 363 probable cases Wednesday. At least 1,581 patients have recovered, and 43 residents diagnosed with the virus have died, according to state data.

Milam County had 1,457 confirmed and 1,092 probable cases Wednesday. At least 2,537 patients have recovered and 48 have died. Twelve cases were active Wednesday, and one patient was hospitalized.

Mills County had 594 confirmed and 62 probable cases of the virus Wednesday. At least 635 patients have recovered and 21 have died, according to state data.

Robertson County had 1,728 confirmed cases Wednesday and 423 probable cases. At least 2,071 patients have recovered, and 43 residents diagnosed with the virus have died, according to state data.

San Saba County had 525 confirmed cases Wednesday and 256 probable cases. At least 762 patients have recovered and 23 have died, according to state data. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Wednesday reported one case involving an inmate and two cases involving employees at the San Saba Transfer Unit where one inmate was isolated.

VACCINE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL COVID-19 DATA

COVID-19 INFORMATION, LINKS AND RESOURCES

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