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Waco Officials Plead for Community to Follow Safety Precautions as COVID-19 Cases Skyrocket

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Following a new high on Tuesday of over 5,000 new coronavirus cases in the state of Texas, Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver presented a grim outlook for McLennan County, barring a significant change in case counts over the coming days.

"For nearly three months, our community managed to keep this virus at an extremely low rate. We had our first confirmed cases in McLennan County on March 17. We registered six that day. We did not reach 100 total cases in our county until May 20th. Sixty five days later. We didn't reach 200 total cases in our county until June 17th. Twenty eight days later. We topped 300 total cases in our county on June 20th, just three days after we had gotten past 200, and we topped 400 total cases in our county yesterday, just four days after we'd reached 300. We do have now exponential growth in our community, and that's what is so very concerning," said Deaver.

Joined by Dr. Jackson Griggs of the Family Health Center, Deaver cited exponentially rising active case counts and a predicted positivity rate in the county of over 10 percent, up from less than one percent last month, as significant concerns for the county going forward. Dr. Griggs stressed the importance of staying home when possible, explaining that every decision to go out in McLennan County currently carries with it the risk of exposure.

"Understand that going out is assuming some risks, that you're accepting the possibility of exposure to the novel coronavirus if you go out right now. So if you start with that frame of reference, then you can make some decisions about, 'Is going out to this location or that location worth the potential exposure?' If possible, stay at home and just be thoughtful in terms of making that sort of risk benefit calculation before you leave your home," said Griggs.

If you do choose to go out in McLennan County, it's now a requirement that you wear a mask. Mayor Deaver issued the order Friday night, requiring that all employees and visitors at local businesses wear a mask, as well as anyone over the age of 10 while in a public space where it is difficult to maintain six feet of social distance.

"A Texas A&M study's conclusion is that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission. I am not a health expert, but we have great health experts that we are consulting with on a daily basis about what we do. And that was the basis of our decision, my decision last Friday to issue the order requiring face masks at businesses," said Deaver.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 16,000 McLennan County residents have been tested for the virus. There are currently 362 active cases, with 79 new cases being confirmed on Thursday. Six people in McLennan County have died. Mayor Deaver implored Waco residents to take these numbers seriously.

"I want to say to the good people of Waco in Central Texas, it's time that we take this pandemic seriously again. Many of you have continued to take it seriously and have tried to do all the right things. And we thank you for that. But many of us have not. Beginning around Memorial Day, many, many people began acting as if the pandemic had somehow vanished. I'm afraid our low road rate of infection in Waco in McLennan County may have contributed to this by giving us a false sense of safety. People started going to parties, family reunions, bars, nightclubs, all of which would be fine if everyone was exercising the safety measures that have been stated. But it's too difficult for most of us to follow those rules in those settings. We must return to staying at home as much as possible, maintaining physical distance, washing and sanitizing our hands frequently and wearing face coverings in public places. This was mandated by me last Friday and by the city council yesterday in order to save lives," said Deaver.

He stressed that wearing masks is less about keeping the wearer safe, and more about caring for one another.

"If one of you makes the choice not to wear a face covering in a situation where you are near people who don't live in your household, you are saying to every one of those people around you, either 'I know better than you and COVID it isn't real,' or 'I don't care about your health.' We are better than that," he said.

With KWBU News in Waco, I'm Sam Cedar.