Calm before the storm

As Heart of Texas remains relatively sheltered, Gov. Abbott extends executive order through April expecting COVID-19 peak to hit during the next two weeks

For anxious citizens across our nation, the last two weeks have proven to be the calm before the storm. For those of us living in rural counties in the Heart of Texas, concern and questions persist about the impact of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on our communities.

While social distancing has always been a way of life in country living, facing separation from friends, seeing the businesses of our neighbors shutting down and experiencing our church doors being shuttered disrupts our comfort zone. Even with those actions in place, rural Texans continue to wonder if they are doing enough.

In the meantime, concern over the influx of weekend landowners and their extended family members fleeing urban areas grows. With their arrival brings fears that they will spread the virus to the rural counties with minimal medical facilities to handle a surge in the sick and possibly positive COVID-19 patients.

As March draws to a close, Texas and the nation braces for the difficult month that lies ahead. President Donald Trump extended his stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April on Sunday, as top medical advisers predict up to 200,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, U.S deaths from the coronavirus pandemic topped 3,000 as all 50 states reported confirmed cases of the disease.

Then as the initial 15-day period for federal social distancing guidelines expired Tuesday, stricter guidelines were put into place for the next 30 days with the curve continuing its upward climb across the nation.

So far, the coronavirus has been slow to come to the Heart of Texas. Despite laying a invasive gauntlet down along the IH-35 corridor, COVID-19 has circled around the Heart of Texas, hitting McLennan County the hardest with 51 confirmed cases, but only grazing Johnson (23), Hood (9), Erath (7), Hill (5), Coryell (4) and Comanche (1) counties, while leaving Bosque, Hamilton and Somervell remain untouched as of 12 p.m. Sunday, April 5.

According to Goodall-Witcher Healthcare CEO and President Adam Willmann, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bosque County as of 4 p.m. Thursday, April 2. After performing 63 tests, 51 have come back negative, with one positive from a non-Bosque County resident, and 11 currently pending.

Regardless, the Texas Hospital Association and Texas Nurses Association urged Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a statewide stay-at-home and shelter-in-place order Tuesday, insisting in a letter that the policy would prevent widespread illness in Texas.

With that in hand and considering the guidelines President Trump issued Sunday, Gov. Abbott modified his previous executive order by extending the statewide social distancing policy through April 30, limiting business operations to essential services. With the order, schools will remain closed statewide through May 4, unless otherwise extended.

“Let me start off today by expressing my gratitude to all our fellow Texans for your tremendous efforts over the last few weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Gov. Abbott said during his press conference Tuesday afternoon. “By staying at home, by reducing personal interactions you are saving lives, and you are improving the health of people across our entire state.”

As of noon Sunday, positive tests for COVID-19 have been reported in 152 of Texas’ 254 counties. But with 70,938 total tests administered, only 6,812 positive cases (9.6 percent) have been reported. Of those tested positive, approximately 11 percent have required hospitalization leaving only 2.4 percent of the hospital beds available across Texas currently occupied.

“One thing that is clear,” Gov. Abbott said. “When you look around your community, distancing practices that you are doing are working. There are fewer people out there that can transmit the disease from one person to another.

“But as President Trump said just two days ago, now is not the time for us to let up in these distancing efforts. Now is the time instead to double our efforts, to make sure we do more to rid ourselves of the coronavirus.”

But with that said, 127 Texans have now lost their lives to the coronavirus. Across the nation, there have been 7,616 deaths caused by COVID-19 with 304,826 positives cases reported as of noon Sunday, April 5. While the curve has not begun to flatten in the U.S, medical officials expect the peak – the highest point of death rate – to hit in the next two weeks.

After having COVID-19 modeling data presented to him by two physicians — Anthony S. Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator — advising on the pandemic, President Trump now hopes we can expect to be on our way to recovery by June 1.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” President Trump said at his news conference Sunday evening. “That would be the greatest loss of all.”

Since 2010, the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In comparison, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed 675,000 in the United States.

According to Birx, 12 models of the coronavirus’s spread in the United States predicted a worst case scenario of between 1.6 million and 2.2 million fatalities if Americans did not practice social distancing and take other mitigation measures.

“As the coronavirus has spread across the land, at a time when lives are literally at risk, Texans continue to rise the occasion,” Gov. Abbott said. “Efforts of Texans across the entire state have slowed the spread of the coronavirus.

“But, as the President has made clear, we are not yet done with our response. We cannot forfeit the gains we have already made by cutting short our task. We’ve come too far to falter now. We have made tremendous strides, but we have not yet reached out destination. We have more to do for Texas to reach its determined destiny. Together, we will persevere through this for another month. Together, we are going to heal our state.”

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