• 73°

COVID outbreak hits county

Bell County records 46th positive case

After being one of the last counties in Kentucky to report a positive COVID-19 case, Bell County is now experiencing an outbreak that has local officials concerned. As of Tuesday, the county reports 46 positive cases, according to a statement from the Bell County Health Department.

Bell County Judge Executive Albey Brock said Tuesday morning that cases are appearing rapidly.

“We were one of the few, one of the last six counties to not have a case, and then when we did get a case, there were just a few. We got up to about 10 and then hovered there for weeks with nothing, and then last week, it started on Tuesday or Wednesday, and all of a sudden, bang, we’ve got four cases. We’d never had more than a couple in a day,” Brock said.

Bell County Health Department Director Teresa Hunter said the rise seems to be community wide at this point, and the numbers began to increase at the start of the Fourth of July weekend. She said 13 new cases were reported Friday, with another six cases on Saturday, followed by 10 and 12 on Sunday and Monday respectively.

Despite what some people believe, the disease is not limited to the age group originally believed to be most at risk, which was the older segment of the population, and especially older citizens with other health concerns.

“We’ve had a 1-year-old, and we’ve got multiple cases in their 20s. I could probably off the top of my head name 10 in that range. And the late teens, 16, 19, but a bunch in their 20s,” Brock added.

There is no one reason why the cases are appearing so quickly, but Brock said travel is a part of it.

“A lot of folks want to blame it on travel, and travel is relevant. We do have a good number of these that are associated with travel,” he said. “We have some that are associated directly with a church service, and we’ve got other symptomatic spread that is random in the county, with no connection to travel, no connection to church. It’s concerning because a lot of these people are symptomatic, and that worries us because they are obviously more contagious.”

Increased testing is often seen as a reason for an increase in positive results, and Brock said while more testing is taking place, no one reason can be identified as the cause.

“We have had a big increase in testing, but there is no single one of those factors that I can attribute to being a dominant factor in our recent outbreak,” he said.

Trissa Wilder, nurse supervisor at the Bell County Health Department, said that her best estimate on the number of people tested in Bell County as of 7 p.m. Monday is “2,600, if not higher.”

There have been no COVID-related deaths in Bell County, but Brock said he is concerned that there will be at some point.

“The law of averages starts working against you. The more cases you’ve got, the more chance you’ve got for a tragedy,” he said.

Hunter said the outbreak is alarming to her, and she believes people are not continuing to take precautions like they were before.

“I think it’s just a matter of people getting lax in their social distancing, their wearing masks, washing hands,” she said. “Washing your hands is the number one way to prevent the spread of communicable disease. Any chance you get, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, stay 6 feet away, wear a mask. I just think people are getting lax with it. And you’ve got people traveling for vacations, and they’re traveling to states where they’re having outbreaks and then they’re bringing it back.”

When it comes to precautions, Brock said “all of the obvious” methods should be used, but he feels masks are a key in being safe.

“I’m a champion of wearing a mask. It’s obvious, a no-brainer,” he said. “Unfortunately there are those out there on both sides of the political spectrum that want to politicize a mask, and that’s really sad. Nobody should have to make anyone wear a mask. They should want to do that to protect themselves and protect others.”

Brock said he and other local leaders are regularly using social media to encourage people to “do the obvious.”

“Everybody knows what to do right now. At this point in the game, everybody knows that we’re in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, and they need to be social distancing, washing their hands, using hand sanitizer and wearing masks,” he said. “We’re encouraging our churches. I’m an advocate for opening up. I don’t have any issues with us being open, but we need to do it safely. If we’ll be conscientious and good neighbors about this, we can open up and everything will be fine, but if not, we’ll continue to see spreads.”