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Health officials wary of increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations; 2 more deaths reported

Health officials wary of increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations; 2 more deaths reported


Local health officials said Wednesday that McLennan County likely is again approaching the “tipping point” of seeing exponential spread of COVID-19 in the community, after new positive cases started trending upward last month.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said the county has averaged between 50 and 60 new cases a day for the past four weeks, which puts McLennan County into the category of “accelerated community spread” under the Harvard Global Health Institute metrics.

“This is just simply too many new cases each day for a community our size,” Deaver said. “We simply must be more vigilant to suppress the spread of the virus.”

At least 131 McLennan County residents have died from COVID-19 complications, seven months into the coronavirus pandemic. The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported the deaths of two more residents Wednesday, an 89-year-old woman and a 66-year-old woman.

The health district also reported 62 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the county total to 9,187 cases. An estimated 556 people are currently sick with the disease, and an estimated 8,500 have recovered.

Waco hospitals were treating 60 COVID-19 patients Wednesday, including 17 people on ventilators.

With 131 deaths, McLennan County’s COVID-19 mortality rate is about 1.4% of confirmed cases, said Dr. Marc Elieson with Baylor Scott & White Health.

“We focus a lot on mortality because mortality is final. We can’t bring those people back. We can’t make them better,” Elieson said. “There is tremendous morbidity because of this disease. Just because you’re young and you’re healthy doesn’t mean you’re immune, doesn’t mean you can’t be severely affected by the disease.”

Elieson said many patients in the hospital who were in their 30s, 40s or 50s and had no previous medical problems ended up with “long, arduous hospital stays and the trek to recovering,” along with some “ravaging side effects” in certain cases. He remembered a healthy man in his 50s who contracted COVID-19 and now has a permanent disability that means he will never walk again.

Waco Family Health Center CEO Dr. Jackson Griggs said the fact McLennan County is reporting more than 25 new cases per 100,000 people a day on a rolling average is concerning because that is the “tipping point” for exponential spread.

The Harvard Global Health Institute’s “Key Metrics for COVID Suppression” puts McLennan County into the “red zone,” meaning stay-at-home orders are necessary to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

McLennan County is lagging behind other communities in its ability to get a handle on this disease and limit the spread, said Dr. Brian Becker, chief medical officer at Ascension Providence Medical Center. The hospital has seen an average of 32 COVID-19 patients a day over the past week, with about a third of those people ending up in the intensive care unit.

Early last month, Texas started seeing an uptick in new cases per day, but McLennan County had a bit of a head start, Griggs said. Since June, McLennan County has often exceeded both the state’s and the country’s rate of new cases per 100,000 people in a day, he said.

Currently, nine long-term care facilities have COVID-19 outbreaks, with 21 residents and staff members at those facilities sick with the disease, Griggs said. An outbreak means there is at least one active case among facility residents or staff members.

In Marlin, the William P. Hobby women’s prison unit remains on lockdown, with 250 inmates and 38 employees testing positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The sick inmates are in insolation. Another 893 women are on “medical restriction,” meaning they are confined to their individual units because they may have been exposed to the virus.

Hobby was one of three Texas Department of Criminal Justice units on lockdown Wednesday, according to the department.

At the McLennan County Jail complex, there are four active cases, Griggs said.

Nine school districts and two private schools in McLennan County are reporting a total of 72 positive cases on campus, Griggs said. Of the 72, 52 are in students and 20 are in staff members.

Midway Independent School District reported 27 active COVID-19 cases Wednesday morning, according to its dashboard. Eight staff members and 19 students are currently sick with the disease.

Waco ISD reported nine positive COVID-19 cases at 10 campuses or other district locations so far this week, according to its dashboard. Since school started Sept. 8, the district has reported 37 cases among students, 42 among staff and four others.

Baylor University reported 101 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, among students, staff and others on campus, according to its dashboard. Out of the 101 people, 75 are students, 19 are staff members, four are faculty and three are contractors. Since Aug. 1, the university has reported 1,143 COVID-19 cases.

McLennan Community College reported Wednesday seven students are currently sick with COVID-19, according to its dashboard. The college has reported a total of 112 cases among students, staff and visitors.

Free COVID-19 testing is still available daily at various locations in McLennan County through partnerships with the federal Health and Human Services Department and various local entities.

Drive-thru testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at Waco ISD Stadium, 1401 S. New Road, and outside the Community Services Center at McLennan Community College, 4601 N. 19th St. Walk-up testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave., through the entrance on the Franklin Avenue side.

Drive-thru testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at MCC and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Heritage Square, Fourth Street and Washington Avenue. Walk-up testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 915 La Salle Ave.

For registration details and future testing dates throughout the month, visit Waco Transit will provide free rides to anyone going to or from a testing site.

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