MILAM COUNTY — Ask Milam County Judge Steve Young what he thinks about the latest COVID-19 figures from his area, and he’ll admit it’s already bad and about to get far worse.
“This might be lowest we see our active case count for the next 90 days," warns Young.
In the past month, the county’s active case count has spiked a shocking 2,000 percent, going from six to 125 and counting. Hospitalizations and deaths are dramatically rising, too.
"This shouldn't be a political thing. I know it is but it shouldn't be. This is a health and safety crisis in the county and the solution is the vaccination," urged Young on Friday.
Under 40 percent of the county’s eligible population has gotten a COVID-19 shot, despite months of free and mobile clinics.
Even though Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibits local COVID-19 restrictions, Young says he’s still considering enacting some; including a local mask mandate.
"I've thought about that. We're prohibited from doing it at this point, I guess, but I've certainly thought about that," said Young, acknowledging that any such move would likely end in a legal challenge.
The Delta variant is fueling a sharp uptick in cases and hospitalizations in urban areas, but also rural swaths of Central Texas.
Milam County lost its community hospital a couple of years ago. Since 2005, some 180 rural hospitals have closed coast to coast, many in Texas.
"The case counts are up in all the rural counties, just up exponentially," says Young.
In the Hearts of Texas Regional Advisory Council area, which covers the more populated McLennan County but also four neighboring rural ones, there are currently 123 COVID hospitalizations.
That’s up dramatically over June and early July. During the past 24 hours, executive director Christine Reeves said there were 107 ER visits in rural parts of the counties, with at least 25 suspected of being COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this week, Dr. Jackson Griggs of Waco Family Medicine, said in a public meeting that "People were about twice as likely to be hospitalized with Delta than the previous Alpha, or UK variant. It's faster, it's more dangerous."
Griggs, like the vast majority of medical professions in Central Texas, said increasing vaccinations is the key to reversing the latest trends.
Last month, Bell County officials started putting out the word about less hospital space with a surge in cases. At the time, the County had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the entire state, although it had improved slightly to 34 percent fully vaccinated of the eligible population by Friday.