Coronavirus cases decrease locally as fall semester nears

The ALICO building, located on Austin and 5th street, is the tallest building in Waco, standing at 282 feet tall. Photo courtesy of Timothy Arterbury.

By Matthew Muir | Copy Desk Chief

Waco’s coronavirus outbreak shows tenuous but steady improvement. After a significant spike during the summer, the estimated number of active cases continues to slowly decrease.

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 47 new and 5,760 cumulative cases in the county as of Sunday afternoon, including an estimated 1,732 active cases. The rolling 7-day average of new cases continued the downward trend it’s followed since July, though the 112 new cases recorded Wednesday represent the highest single-day total so far this month.

The rolling seven-day average test positivity rate has also decreased from its mid-July high of 23% to roughly 10%. Health experts generally recommend waiting to relax restrictions until an area’s positivity rate is 5% or lower.

COVID-19 has claimed 79 lives in McLennan County as of Sunday. Forty-seven people are hospitalized.

The City of Waco held its 20th weekly COVID-19 press conference Wednesday. Dr. Brian Becker, who works with Ascension Providence, said during the press conference that hospitalizations for COVID-19 were down.

“We continue to monitor viral activity in the community and [I’m] happy to say that we’ve seen some reduction, approximately 25% reduction, in hospitalized COVID patients in the past two weeks,” Becker said.

At the press conference, Mayor Kyle Deaver said the Waco community needs to stay aware to avoid undoing the progress made in battling the pandemic.

“Our rate continues to look good; we’ve just got a lot of things coming up with reopenings of schools and the upcoming Labor Day weekend,” Deaver said. “We’ve got to continue to be vigilant and do what we know we need to do to keep ahead of this virus.”

That vigilance includes measures such as wearing a face mask, frequent hand-washing and maintaining social distancing. Social gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned in the state of Texas. Masks are mandatory anywhere it is not feasible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing, and noncompliance could result in a $250 fine. Deaver said local law enforcement will take reported violations seriously.

“We’ve seen around the state and the nation different pictures of parties that have been happening, and those obviously are huge risk factors for our community,” Deaver said. “If our police department receives a complaint they will certainly investigate for violations of the order.”

Baylor University’s COVID-19 policy requires face coverings on campus and in any public location off campus, as well as social distancing and adherence to local and state ordinances. A statement released Wednesday evening by Dr. Sharra Hynes, Baylor’s dean of students and associate vice president in the Division of Student Life, said students who don’t comply could face penalties up to suspension or expulsion. Any student organization caught hosting events which “endanger the health and wellbeing” of the Baylor community may face penalties including suspension or the removal of its charter.