Public health official reflects on three year mark of first COVID-19 case in Central Texas

“We’re in a better position now than we were before,” Janice Smith says
A public health official reflects on the three year mark of the first COVID-19 case in Central Texas.
Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 3:30 PM CDT
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BELL COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) - Three years ago, on March 12, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality for Central Texans when the first case of the virus was reported in Bell County.

The case was a 29-year-old male who resided in Belton, according to Bell County Judge David Blackburn during a press conference.

During that same press conference, Blackburn encouraged folks to practice social distancing and other safety measures while still allowing “life to get on.”

Other officials in attendance at that first meeting included Dr. Amanda Robinson-Chadwell, the public health director for Bell County at the time.

She detailed her initial understanding of the virus, urging folks not to rush healthcare facilities if they started feeling sick.

“If you do not have symptoms severe enough to seek supportive care, please stay home,” Robinson-Chadwell said.

The first case hit Bell County that day, and looking back, it’s something Bell County health authority Janice Smith now says she remembers feeling unprepared for.

“We were not as prepared as I think we would’ve liked to have been,” Janice Smith, MD, the Bell County health authority, said. “But I think nobody realized the impact this was going to have at the time, so it was a little overwhelming.”

Tens of thousands of cases would follow in the county and region, as the press conferences continued every Friday at 1 P.M.

KWTX reporters asked if surviving COVID-19 would protect folks from it in the future, and at the time Robinson-Chadwell responded that that was “unfortunately a question we don’t yet have an answer to.”

Today, Smith admits their knowledge early on was limited.

“Not knowing how it would spread, who it was most likely to attack, not knowing the best way to treat it,” Smith said. ”We just did not know, it was so new.”

Smith now says that having COVID and building immunity is a large part of the position we are in today.

“We also have a lot of natural immunity now, so many people have been infected,” Smith added.

Smith also credits the vaccine and a changing virus.

“We have the vaccines, also the new variant is, seems to be less virulent, doesn’t cause as severe disease as it did,” Smith said.

To date, just over three thousand people have died from COVID-19 in Central Texas.

The COVID-19 public health emergency is set to end May 11, 2023.