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Officials urge continued caution as Waco schools report virus cases, quarantines

Officials urge continued caution as Waco schools report virus cases, quarantines

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COVID-19’s spread in McLennan County appears to have picked up in the past week, even as some indicators show improvement, according to local health officials.

While the testing positivity rate in the county is at its lowest level in a month, the average daily count of new cases and the virus’ reproduction rate have each ticked up, officials said Wednesday, during a weekly press conference on COVID-19. Waco Family Health Center residency program director Dr. Mike Hardin said the county’s effective reproduction rate for COVID-19, or R(t) value, increased to more than 1, indicating increasing spread. The figure indicates how many people one infected person is likely to spread the virus to.

“Obviously, below one is where we would like it to be,” Hardin said. “This number is a leading indicator, meaning it will go up first before we see an increase of cases or hospitalizations here locally.”

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 40 new cases in residents of the county Wednesday, bringing the total to 7,271, including 520 people with active infections and 6,660 who have recovered. Waco hospitals were treating 39 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, including 10 on ventilators. McLennan County’s death toll from the virus stands at 91. As of Tuesday, 10% of all tests administered in the county were coming back positive, on a rolling seven-day average basis, according to data at covidwaco.com. That is down from a peak of 23% in mid-July.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said the county’s numbers are improving in may ways, but resident must continue to take the virus seriously and work to keep themselves and others healthy.

“I will remind you that we were extremely low through the beginning of June, and in fact we didn’t pass 1,000 cases until July 1,” Deaver said. “Over the last two-and-a-half months, we’ve gone from 1,000 to over 7,000 cases.”

Deaver said the weekly average case count is up to 60 new cases per day, up from 50 new cases per day a week earlier.

A significant number of new cases are associated with students, even if many of those cases are tied directly to classes.

“I think what we’re seeing in our grade schools and colleges is that the schools themselves are doing a fantastic job inside the schools. It’s the extracurricular activities that are getting us in trouble,” Deaver said. “Somehow, we’ve got to help our young people understand that they just can’t act as they normally would during this time.”

He said Baylor University was seeing an average of 60 new cases per day late last month as classes resumed, but the university’s current seven-day average is down to 10 new cases per day.

“The situation at Baylor is much improved over what it was a couple of weeks ago, and that’s very encouraging,” Deaver said.

covid19testing

A motorist drops a test sample off during a free COVID-19 testing event at Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church on Wednesday. Free COVID-19 testing will continue at the church Thursday, with registration required at texas.curativeinc.com/welcome.

The university announced 10 new cases Wednesday, with 107 cases active in students, employees or contractors using campus. Baylor also announced some alterations to its typical spring semester schedule. It will start a week late, on Jan. 18, and end May 5. There also will be no spring break or Diadeloso celebration.

McLennan Community College reported another student tested positive Wednesday as well.

After starting classes eight days ago, Waco ISD had five COVID-19 cases Wednesday and has instructed three classes to remain at home in quarantine because someone associated with each class tested positive for COVID-19, district Chief of Staff Kyle DeBeer said.

Two classes at Kendrick Elementary and one at Lake Air Montessori, which serves prekindergarten through eighth grade students, have been told to isolate themselves at home for 14 days since the last contact with the individual who tested positive. The district has three cases at Kendrick, one at Lake Air and one at University High School, DeBeer said. Three students and two staff members have tested positive.

When an individual in an elementary school tests positive for COVID-19, Waco ISD typically treats everyone in their classroom as a close contact because they are usually together all day. Because secondary schools use seating charts and class schedules, it is easier to determine specific close contacts, DeBeer said.

The state has required schools to define a close contact as someone who has spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of an individual who tested positive for the virus.

“Obviously, you can imagine in a classroom setting that can be pretty hard to judge sometimes,” Hardin said. “I know teachers are keeping track of where students are seated in their classes. It becomes even more complicated at lunchtime and recess, so they have specific strategies in place to manage that.”

Hardin said when a case is reported at a school, the school district identifies close contacts within the campus, gives the infected person quarantine instructions and then passes the information on to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. From there, the health district investigates close contacts outside of the school.

He said while there is no way to know how many people are carriers, there is evidence that young adults are more likely to be asymptomatic spreaders.

“It’s still not clear at what rate they spread it, but we do know they can spread it,” Hardin said. “We really don’t have granular data locally to prove that’s what’s going on, so I think we can probably safely assume that, but we don’t know for certain.”

covid19testing

A volunteer collects a COVID-19 test kit at Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church on Wednesday. Free testing will continue at the church Thursday, with registration required at texas.curativeinc.com/welcome.

Addressing questions Wednesday about the safety of attending football games, Ascension Medical Group Providence Chief Medial Officer Dr. Richard Haskett said temperature checks and other prevention measures can only go so far, largely because of the prevalence of asymptomatic spread.

“I have to believe in the good sense of Central Texans to do the right thing and to do their best to have a safe environment as best we can, but it’s not going to be perfect no matter what strategy we use,” Haskett said.

The local health district and state emergency management agencies are partnering to offer free testing locally. Drive-up testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, 1402 Elm Ave. Registration is required at texas.curativeinc.com/welcome.

Symptoms are not required to receive a test. All tests are free and conducted with a cheek swab.

Walk-up testing, with no registration required, will be offered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 24-26 at the Waco Multi-Purpose Facility, 1020 Elm Ave.

Another drive-thru testing event will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 2 at Waco Fire Station No. 5, 4515 Bagby Ave. Registration is required at texas.curativeinc.com/welcome.


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