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EDITORIAL: COVID-19 kept in check until summer surge

EDITORIAL: COVID-19 kept in check until summer surge

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During the first week of March, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District plans to give its state-allotted 3,000 COVID-19 shots over three days at McLane Stadium.

This weekend we mark the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic. Officially declared on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization, SARS-CoV-2 was first confirmed in McLennan County on March 18, when our first six cases were confirmed by the local health district. On March 31, Phillip Perry, 49, principal of G.W. Carver Middle School, became the county’s first death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

March was the beginning of the pandemic worldwide and our lives here in McLennan County changed drastically as a result. However, Waco and the surrounding areas didn’t feel the full impact of the coronavirus until mid-June.

June 15, to be exact.

There had been fewer than 200 cases in McLennan County since the pandemic began as of June 14, 2020. Shelter-in-place orders within the city of Waco and shutdown orders statewide kept the virus from spreading in Texas from mid-March through April. Even as Gov. Greg Abbott announced a slow, phased-in reopening of the state’s economy in early May, cases remained low and hospitalizations manageable. Our efforts to “bend the curve” of infections and avoid overwhelming our health care system here had seemingly worked as we approached Memorial Day.

We recall a spirited debate on the subject of having municipal elections on May 2, when there were 13 active cases in the county. City of Waco officials were roundly criticized for even considering such a move, and ultimately postponed the election to Nov. 3. For the record, there were 567 active cases in the county on Nov. 3. We even moved our COVID-19 tracker off the front page during the first week of June after several days of zero cases being reported. We began to think the coronavirus pandemic might be running out of steam.

Public health officials, however, began sounding the alarm in early June. The virus was here, they said, spreading undetected throughout the community due to the acute lack of testing. They were right.

On June 15, the county reported 33 positive cases and it touched off alarm bells all over McLennan County. That was the day we realized the virus was spreading quickly here. On July 13, 354 COVID-19 tests were completed in McLennan County, and 41 percent of them came back positive.

Over the next six weeks McLennan County saw 3,200 cases and 62 deaths as hospitalizations shot up to near capacity.

The summer 2020 surge showed us firsthand what this virus is capable of and how quickly it can spread. The world entered the coronavirus pandemic on March 11 and 96 days later it exploded here.

We’re hopeful that sustained and complete vaccination efforts over the next three months will extinguish this virus for good — and that June 15, 2021 becomes an anniversary we celebrate for all the right reasons.

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