Palo Pinto County has two confirmed COVID-19 cases as reported Friday by Palo Pinto General Hospital. There are likely other unconfirmed cases in the community, officials warn.
The hospital's latest update shows it performing 111 tests for the disease, resulting in 63 negative results. There were 47 test results pending. One person who lives outside the county was tested at PPGH and was COVID-19 positive.
Two confirmed cases involve people in the county not tested at PPGH, but reported to the hospital and the county's health doctor.
First Baptist Church of Mineral Wells on Thursday acknowledged a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and is hospitalized, and is reportedly showing improvement. Potentially exposed church staff members and their families have isolated themselves awaiting their own virus test results.
"The public health officials are working out a line and trying to figure out what is best for the community and we are doing the same for our church to keep the church members and the community well," said FBC pastor Rev. Nathan Buchanan.
Like many other local churches, First Baptist Church stopped conducting live Sunday services and are broadcasting them over the Internet while the coronavirus pandemic and public restrictions continue under federal guidelines and orders from the state to stay home except for essential workers or for essential needs, like grocery shopping or picking up medications.
"I would ask people to pray for our staff and our community, too, that the Lord will continue to walk with us through this pandemic as He has been," Buchanan said. "He is still here with us. He hasn't abandoned us."
Buchanan urged people to follow the guidelines and orders, to shelter as much as possible and limit trips outside the home.
"There is no reason to be afraid," the pastor said. "We just need to be cautious and think through things."
For now, very little more is known about the two COVID-19 cases tied to Palo Pinto County.
A county resident who tested positive for the disease reportedly lives in the rural portion of the county. Palo Pinto General Hospital and county officials were notified Tuesday of that positive test result.
Earlier on Tuesday, PPGH officials stated they tested a person who does not live in the county, but whose results came back positive for the disease. They had first called their physician, who practices in Mineral Wells, and was asked to go to PPGH for the test. Officials said they were told that person drove directly to the hospital and back home. They did not exit their vehicle at the hospital.
As for the county resident who tested positive, no information has been released publicly regarding if and where they are employed, what stores they possibly visited or who they might have exposed to the virus.
Palo Pinto County Judge Shane Long said while that kind of information has not been made public, health officials are working to make sure anyone potentially exposed are notified, tested and isolated if necessary pending the results.
"The health department does those investigations and they are responsible for making those contacts. That is being done," Long said.
The judge he said he hopes going forward more details about positive cases in the county can be made public as long as they follow individual privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
"I think we are at a point where we need to be as transparent as possible and abide by the HIPAA rules," said Long. "We have been in this process for just a little while and we have had zero cases in Palo Pinto County (before now) so I think we are still trying to figure what to do when we start having them."
Long said while there are just two confirmed cases in the county, he said people should assume the virus is out there with people who have not yet become symptomatic, or have mild symptoms, and have not been tested. The CDC says people with the virus can spread the disease several days before symptoms appear.
"I think there are probably people who have had the virus who haven't been tested," said Long. "They didn't have symptoms and didn't have an acute need to see a doctor. They have probably been out and been exposed to people."
Like Buchanan, Long also emphasized the need for people to shelter at home as much as possible and follow the CDC guidelines to frequently wash hands, sanitize surfaces, social distance and refrain from touching your face.
"We can't do this for them," he said. "They are going to have to actually do this themselves."
City of Mineral Wells Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Chief Mike Pool has been preaching this for weeks.
"I am afraid of the people we don't know because they don't take the precautions," he said. "That's the ones that get you. The ones you don't know."