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County applies for antibody testing grant

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    As of Friday morning, 125 cases have been reported in Bastrop County. This image will be updated regularly as the information on the dashboard changes. View the dashboard at www.co.bastrop.tx.us/page/em.coronavirus.

Bastrop County applied for a grant to provide free antibody testing this summer, the county judge said he has tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, and an emergency management official said one staff member at a nursing home in the county has tested positive for COVID-19.

Court approves grant application for antibody testing

The county applied for a grant to bring free COVID-19 antibody tests to Bastrop County last week.

During a special meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court on May 4, emergency management deputy director Christine Files presented an opportunity for a grant from the St. David’s Foundation in order to fund antibody testing.

An antibody is produced in the blood in response to a harmful foreign body, such viruses or bacteria, and help fight off that foreign body to prevent infection. Vaccines prevent illnesses by introducing a harmless form of a virus or bacteria into a person’s body, causing their immune system to produce antibodies that “remember” how to fight against that virus or bacteria, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An antibody test, which is different from a viral test such as the COVID-19 test that looks for a current infection, checks a person’s blood for antibodies to see if they might have had the virus in the past.

If the county receives a grant for antibody testing, Files said the testing would focus on essential workers.

“Essential workers are the portion of the population that has been continuously exposed to this virus since the very beginning,” she said. “So, they’re going to be the ones most likely to give us a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in the future as we open up business in our community.”

Another reason to test essential workers, she added, is since antibodies could give a person some degree of immunity, these people might be able to continue to work in case another wave of the virus appears.

After essential workers are tested, Files said, testing could be opened to the general public, focusing on those who are uninsured and unable to get the tests otherwise.

The proposed grant application would ask for $250,000, allowing for between 3,000 and 5,000 people to be tested. The county would either partner with personnel from St. David’s HealthCare or contracting a team to administer the tests.

During the most recent regular commissioners’ court meeting on Monday, Files said the county should know if they received the grant in early June, so the antibody testing wouldn’t start until July.

“The more information we know, the better policies we can make, the better decisions we can make about when we can open things up more and allow people to get back out and do more things,” Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said in an interview.

County judge tests positive for coronavirus antibodies

After suffering an unusual illness in February, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape tested positive for the antibodies that suggest a past COVID-19 infection.

Pape said he got sick around February 9 with an illness that felt different than a common cold or the flu, and after feeling weaker and not getting any better, visited a doctor on February 14.

“The doctor examined me, and never talked about COVID as a possibility,” he said. “There was very little known about COVID in the general public at that time. I’d never heard the word before, so I didn’t ask about it, and she didn’t mention it.”

The doctor diagnosed Pape with a sinus infection, gave him medicine and told him to go home and take care of himself. The next week, Pape said he felt somewhat better, but had a serious cough that persisted for a few more weeks. Then, around the beginning of March, he began to hear more and more about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“The more I learned about it, the more I thought, ‘that sure sounds like what I had,’” he said. “I became curious as to whether or not my diagnosis maybe should have been something different than what it was.”

Pape called the doctor and asked if any antibody tests were available, and after a few days, they called back and said a local clinic had the tests. Pape went in for the antibody test, and after about an hour, received his positive test result. The person who gave him the test results told him that normally, when a person has a virus, they develop antibodies that make them immune to the virus for at least a few months, but since the COVID-19 coronavirus is such a new virus, scientists don’t really know for sure.

“I said, ‘Well, it doesn’t mean I’ll just forget about all the precautions, but at least likely as not, I may have some immunity to it,’” Pape said.

Since it was first announced that Pape had tested positive for antibodies, he said many people have contacted him saying that they had been sick with a similar illness in February. He encourages anybody who has a reason to believe they have had COVID-19 to seek out an antibody test at clinics that offer it.

“It would be not only interesting, but helpful to know (how many people have the antibodies), because the more people we find in our culture who have had the virus, then that would probably mean that the community spread has been more extensive than we thought,” he said. “If we find out more and more people have had the virus, then we will know that it’s been around longer, and if you’ve had it and survived, there’s a good chance that you won’t be getting it again anytime soon.”

Emergency management official provides update

On Monday, the 57th day of Bastrop County’s local disaster declaration, emergency management deputy director Christine Files gave the Bastrop County Commissioners Court an update on the COVID-19 situation.

So far, the county has performed 880 COVID-19 tests, which includes 433 tests administered at the county’s test site in Mayfest Park and 150 tests given as part of the county-wide prevalence study last month. Out of the 433 tests, 14 percent rate came back positive; Files later added these tests were administered to people who received a doctor’s order and have COVID-19 symptoms.

Files said Bastrop County has been selected for a third mobile test site through the Texas Military Department. She said the exact date is unknown, but it should happen within the next two weeks.

Last Tuesday, 213 tests were performed at the first two mobile test sites hosted by the Texas Military Department. These mobile test sites were located at the Elgin Recreation Center and the Household Hazardous Waste facility in Smithville. Files said the county has some, but not all, of the numbers back from the first two mobile test sites. Of those tests the county has the results for so far, which is less than half of the total tests administered at the mobile testing sites, three turned out positive.

The remaining 84 tests were part of a nursing home study that the county conducted last week. Files said the nursing home study found one positive case of COVID-19 in a staff member at one of the two nursing homes that have been tested, and the county is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) for mitigation efforts, which includes testing every single resident and every single staff member at that nursing home.

“I think I, and this court, feel very comfortable that we’re on top of this matter, and we’re prepared for whatever comes,” Pape said. “We’ve approved today some extensions of some agreements that keep us prepared in case there’s a rebound as Texas begins to open up. We just have to stay the course.”

Files added, as Texas continues to reopen, the Emergency Operations Center will change its schedule regarding meetings, and the county’s message will change from “stay home” to “stay safe.”

Bastrop County cases number over 100

As of Monday afternoon, Bastrop County has confirmed 112 positive cases of COVID-19, according to the county’s dashboard.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reports that 35 people have recovered from the illness in Bastrop County; two people have died.

At the same time last week, the county’s total number of cases was 87, with 29 recoveries.

According to data from DSHS, 56 percent, or 63, of the cases are in males, and 44 percent of the cases, or 49, are in females. Six cases are people between 10 and 19 years old, 14 cases are people in their 20s, 24 cases are people in their 30s, 21 cases are people in their 40s, 27 cases are people in their 50s, 16 cases are people in their 60s, three cases are people in their 70s, and one case is a person 80 years or older.

Out of the three cities in Bastrop County, Elgin still has the highest number of cases with 46 confirmed cases; Bastrop has two cases, and Smithville has nine cases. The remaining 54 cases are from residents who live in unincorporated areas of the county.

Looking at the county data broken down by zip code, Elgin’s region has a total of 61 cases in Bastrop County, with 15 cases from the unincorporated part of the 78621 zip code area. According to the City of Austin’s COVID-19 dashboard, the 78621 zip code has an additional 19 cases in Travis County.

The unincorporated portion of the 78602 zip code, which is the area surrounding the city of Bastrop, has 15 cases. This area includes the Camp Swift and Lake Bastrop regions. Including the cases within the city limits, the 78602 zip code has a total of 17 cases.

The unincorporated portion of the 78957 zip code, which is the area surrounding the city of Smithville, has three cases, bringing the total for that entire zip code to 12.

The rest of the cases in the unincorporated regions of the county are found in the following zip codes:

  • 78612 (Cedar Creek): 14 cases
  • 78616 (Dale): three cases within Bastrop County
  • 78617 (Del Valle): two cases within Bastrop County
  • 78650 (McDade): three cases
  • 78659 (Paige): one case

See the latest numbers at www.co.bastrop.tx.us/page/em.coronavirus.

The city of Austin’s COVID-19 dashboard, found at www.austintexas.gov/covid19, includes information about hospitalized patients in the five-county Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), in addition to the case numbers for Austin and Travis County. The MSA includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson County.

As of Monday afternoon, the MSA has 91 inpatients in the region’s hospitals, with 39 patients in the intensive care units (ICU) and 20 ventilators in use.

Last week, 84 people were in the hospital as inpatients due to COVID-19, 35 patients were in the ICU and 16 ventilators were in use.