Positive COVID-19 cases rise in the Cross Timbers area; three people dead

This story has been updated with the latest number of positive COVID-19 cases, deaths and other information available as of April 16. The most current number of cases in the nine-county Cross Timbers region is 63, with three deaths. Parker County has the most cases – 17—and saw its numbers more than triple in the past week.

The mostly rural Cross Timbers region is reporting far fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the coronavirus, than its closest large urban area, Fort Worth and surrounding Tarrant County. But the number of confirmed positive cases has increased more than sevenfold in the past two weeks and three people have died.

As of this posting, 47 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the nine-county region, including two of them non-residents of the counties where they were tested. Several counties also have released numbers of people who have recovered.

Local officials and health authorities are bracing for more positive cases and possible deaths as testing ramps up at local medical facilities. Some counties, such as Parker, are reporting unknown causes of exposure and possible community spread of the disease.

Two counties – Erath and Hood – have issued shelter-in-place orders. Six counties – Bosque, Comanche, Eastland, Palo Pinto, Parker and Somervell – have issued disaster declarations. Hamilton County, citing a concern about restricting citizens’ civil liberties, passed a resolution urging voluntary compliance of government directives.

As a public service to the region, Tarleton State University student journalists have spent the past several weeks contacting city, county, school district, law enforcement and public health officials in the Cross Timbers’ nine counties. Their reporting has tracked how many cases of COVID-19 have been reported so far and how communities and their local governments are responding to the crisis.

When their first report was published on March 27, only six positive cases had been reported in five counties.

The student journalists are maintaining required social distancing and conducting interviews by phone and email and gathering information from official websites and Facebook pages.

As the situation changes daily, updates will be posted to the reports on texanews.net.  

Kathryn Jones and Dan Malone, project editors


Update: One Bosque County resident also tests positive

One non-resident tests positive

Reporting by Bailey Barron and Melanie Aguirre

Goodall-Witcher Hospital in Clifton last month reported that a patient tested positive for COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the coronavirus. The person did not live in Bosque County, the hospital said in its statement.

Adam Willman, chief executive officer of Goodall-Witcher Healthcare, said in an update on April 8 that the hospital had conducted 95 tests, with 77 negative and 17 pending.

In Walnut Springs, population about 800, City Secretary Cherie Buccino said no one has yet tested positive for COVID-19, but city hall is keeping its doors locked. The convenience stores and service stations are restocking often.

“So far everything is fine here. There are constant deliveries at the stores,” she said. “I see the big trucks come on a daily basis.”

About 10 miles away, the 300 or so people who live in Iredell also have no confirmed cases,” said City Secretary Marilyn Berry.

She said the nearest hospital with testing available is Goodall-Witcher in Clifton.

“They had one person that wasn’t from the county come to the hospital because they were feeling really ill and had travelled out of state and they ended up coming back positive with the coronavirus,” Berry said.

The community appears to be well stocked with food and supplies, she added.

“I feel like everyone in our community is set for now,” she said. “We even have people signing up to help the elderly— whether it’s to go to the store with them or help them unload.”

She added that the local school district is serving breakfast and lunch for students and their families.

Joyce Benzenhoefer, city secretary of Cranfills Gap, with about 300 residents, said the city hall is closed to the public, the bank is closed, the only restaurant in town is closed for at least two weeks, the local coffee shop is closed and schools are closed indefinitely.

“If you go to the post office, only one at a time (is allowed),” she said. “Everyone is pretty quiet. Nobody is going out doing anything.”


Third positive case confirmed; man arrested for making false COVID-19 claim

Reporting by Adrianna Figone, Kathryn Hill and Treyson Hardin

County Judge Stephanie L. Davis said that as of April 8, three county residents had tested positive, 82 had been tested and 15 currently are waiting for results.

“Our clinics and medical providers in Comanche County and our neighboring counties are on the frontlines testing daily, and are continually receiving results,” the judge said in her regular update on COVID-19 cases. “Our Comanche County residents are testing not only in Comanche County, but other counties as well. Some tests come back in 24 hours and some tests come back in 7 days or longer.”

Comanche County is encouraging all residents to wear a cloth face cover when they go out in public per the CDC’s new recommendations. County Judge Stephanie L. Davis demonstrated how to “mask and minimize” along with the Comanche sculpture downtown. Photo courtesy Judge Stephanie L. Davis’ Facebook page

She added that the providers in Comanche County and neighboring counties do not control the labs or the times the tests results come back.

“Once these results are received, the results are reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services and allocated out to the various counties,” Davis continued. “Please understand, it is a tedious process.”

Comanche police on March 28 arrested a 32-year-old man who claimed on Facebook that he had the coronavirus, which alarmed residents that he may have exposed people in the community. Police investigated the claim and found it to be false. The man was arrested for making a false alarm or report, a Class A misdemeanor.

Schools will remain closed in Comanche through May 4 as ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott, said Gary Speegle, Comanche ISD superintendent.

“Students will continue to utilize Google Classroom as they have been doing,” Speegle said. The district also will use a tool called Gradebook to give parents and students feedback on grades.

“We understand that there is a possibility that we will not be able to finish school in the brick and mortar school buildings,” Speegle said. “We continue to make plans in case we have to continue virtual education through the end of the year. We will get through this time as long as we work together.”

DeLeon: No cases, online learning in place

Reporting by Rylee Nordberg and Katie Perkins

According to posts on the Perkins Middle School Facebook page, students are engaged in remote learning through Google Classroom and Zoom as well as physical packets being distributed to students at specified pick-up times.

DeLeon High School and elementary are doing so as well and all schools will remain closed through May 4. The DeLeon schools are offering curbside pick-up meals. Menus and times can be found on the Facebook pages for DeLeon High School, Perkins Middle School or DeLeon Elementary School.

DeLeon has added a Covid-19 information tab to its website as a resource for parents:  http://www.deleon.esc14.net/upload/common/Docs/C19-1.pdf

The DeLeon Primary Care Center is the closest medical facility and Comanche County Medical Center is the closest large medical facility available to DeLeon residents. Local healthcare professionals and first responders are preparing by making information and preventative care accessible and preparing for an influx of patients and testing.


Four COVID-19 cases confirmed

Reporting by Nick Ratcliff and Alli Roberts

As of Friday, March 27, four COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in the county. Three of the patients are from the town of Cisco.

“As the availability of testing kits increases, we will see an increase in the number of positives across the country,” Dr. Robert DeLuca of Eastland Memorial Hospital said in a statement. “It is still very important to continue with social distancing and good hand washing.”

Eastland County officials urged anyone who suspected they might have the virus to call first before going to the primary care physician’s clinic and/or Eastland Memorial Hospital to conserve limited resources.

 “Patients who are mildly ill with coronavirus are able to recover and manage their symptoms at home,” Dr. DeLuca said. “If you have symptoms including a fever of greater than 100.4°, cough, sore throat and/or shortness of breath, you don’t need to be seen by a provider immediately.”

He asked those people to self-quarantine their entire family at home.

The county has restricted foot traffic in the county courthouse, annex, county barns and sheriff’s office. Anyone needing access to the buildings must make an appointment, County Judge Rex Fields said. Officials and staff at all offices will continue to work.

“These folks will be processing documents by eFile, responding to emails, regular mail, telephone calls, enforcing laws, maintaining roads, and will be seeing people in person when appropriate,” Fields said.

“Finally, please pray for the people affected by this new disease,” the county judge concluded. “We need prayer now more than ever before.

Ranger: No cases, public buildings mostly closed

Reporting by Landon Davis

Ranger ISD Superintendent Mike Thompson said the district will remain closed indefinitely “until the COVD-19 health-related issues are improved.”

Ranger ISD will continue to provide breakfast and lunch for students to pick up either at the Ranger Elementary campus or the Ranger Public Library parking lot. The district also will continue to instruct students online.

“Our staff has worked to make the transition to online instruction and to support your child’s continual academic growth,” Thompson said in a statement posted on the district’s website.

Sgt. Josh Nichols of the Ranger Police Department modeled one of the masts that a local citizen donated to the department to help keep officers safe. Photo courtesy Ranger Police Department

Ranger city officials asked citizens not to meet in groups larger than 10 and that any payment for the city such as utilities must be made online or by mail. The memo also declared Ranger City Hall lobby closed and only City of Ranger personnel allowed in the building. Any business that a citizen needs done in regard to city hall must be done over the phone.

The public library will have changed hours of operation and patrons will be questioned before entry. Public restrooms will be closed, and only emergency situations will be acted upon by the Ranger Police and Fire Departments. The Ranger Municipal Court will also only except payments over telephone, mail or internet.

Also, any employee who handles money must take extra precautions, extra cleaning supplies will be provided in the buildings, and more attention to cleaning will be done to objects that come in to contact with a lot of people like doorknobs, handrails and bathrooms.


Thirteenth active case confirmed, one death; Tarleton student tests positive

Texan News staff reports

As of April 9, 13 cases COVID-19 had been confirmed in the county and one death. Of 275 tests in Stephenville, 170 have been negative and 92 have not been returned.

The cause of exposure of the two latest cases – whether they are related to travel or community spread – are under investigation.

“Once again, we cannot stress enough for our residents to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to get out,” Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien told the Dublin Citizen. “We are only seeing the beginning of this.  We are being told by experts to expect several more weeks of positive tests, until we turn the corner.” 

The first death from COVID-19 was a man in his 80s. The Erath County Emergency Management Office said in a statement that the man had tested positive during a doctor’s visit and died at his home. The cause of his exposure is “under investigation,” the agency said.

Erath County Commissioners have issued a shelter-in-place order until April 30.

Tarleton State University in Stephenville disclosed its first confirmed case, an off-campus student. The university said in a statement that the student “has been in isolation since March 18.” No further information was provided.

Tarleton President James Hurley said that since the national outbreak began, “all buildings and high-volume touchpoints on campus are regularly being cleaned and disinfected.”

The region’s largest university with more than 13,200 students has converted its classes to online. May graduation ceremonies have been postponed until August 7 to 9.


Three positive cases; no disaster declaration

Reporting by Allison Richey, Morgan Sanders and Meghan Murkin

Hamilton General Hospital in late March treated its first positive case for COVID-19. The patient was not a Hamilton County resident, Hamilton Healthcare System said in a prepared statement.

By April 9, the number of positive cases in the county had increased to three. Forty-two cases tested were negative. Five tests are pending results.

Residents took to Facebook to react.

“I’m scared,” one woman posted. “I pray that it doesn’t spread anymore here. Praying for the people who have it and their families.”

County Judge Mark Tynes had not called for a disaster declaration, telling the Hamilton Herald-News that he didn’t want to restrict citizens’ liberties. County commissioners on March 27 adopted a resolution for voluntary compliance with government directives.

Hamilton County EMS shows off custom masks donated by supporter Kathy Embrey. Photo courtesy Hamilton County EMS

“I don’t want to panic people, but this is serious,” he told the Herald-News. “It is very important to comply (with the social distancing order) in order to protect the public.”

Tynes added that “noncompliance will further limit liberties and individual rights, put others at risk and spread the virus. Please don’t be that person.”

Hamilton ISD has switched its students to online instruction and is using the Google Classroom platform. Superintendent Clay Tarpley and Jennifer Zschiesche, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said in a website update that their main goal is to make sure children continue learning.

“We miss your children in our classrooms at HISD, and we hope that everyone stays well as we continue living in this new normal,” they said. 

Both Hamilton and Hico school districts will extend their suspensions of normal district operations per the governor’s order through May 1.

“Suspending operations for this length of time will allow us to determine, in coordination with local health officials, whether the virus is continuing to have community spread or whether it has been contained in our area,” the school districts said in a joint statement. “Hamilton and Hico will continue to coordinate with each other, as well as other school districts in the region and will use the week of April 27th to make any decisions on whether there is a need to extend the suspension further.”


15 positive cases and one COVID-19 death; Granbury tourism industry hit hard

Reporting by Kaylee Pippins, Blair Phillips and Ismenia De La Cerda

The county’s local health authority reported one person has died after contracting COVID-19. No details about the person were provided.

So far 12 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 49 tests are in progress. One person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 has fully recovered and left quarantine.

Local officials have issued a stay-at-home order and the county encourages people not to leave except for essential excursions such as grocery shopping, a doctor’s appointment or to exercise outside. The county is also encouraging social distancing, at least 6 feet, among people who do not live in the same residence.

All non-essential businesses have been ordered to close, including all city buildings and parks. All city-sponsored events have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. The county has required restaurants to shut down their dining in and can only stay open if they offer take-out, drive-through, delivery options.

Michael Ross, Granbury deputy city manager, said local stores “are doing a pretty good job keeping up with restocking and we have an active group in town (Mission Granbury) that is making sure all have adequate food and drink. The largest needs in our area are currently hand sanitizer and the N-95 masks.”

Daily life in the community has changed because Granbury’s economy depends on tourism. Normally this time of year, the city would be gearing up for a busy summer season.

“All the events and festivities have been cancelled and the hotels are empty,” Ross said. “Most of the businesses in town are closed and restaurants are take-out only. The social fabric of Granbury is on pause.”

Granbury has set up a a special section on its website for information on the coronavirus: www.granbury.org/covid19.

Granbury ISD employee’s spouse tests positive; schools provide for virtual learning, food needs

Reporting by Nadya Zamora

Granbury ISD has been informed that a spouse of a child nutrition worker has tested positive for COVID-19, Superintendent Jeremy K. Glenn said in a statement.

The last day the employee worked was on March 24. The department checked temperatures of all child nutrition staff members working to prepare meals.

“Since the report and the later positive diagnosis of the spouse, the employee has not shown any symptoms,” Glenn said. “In addition, no child nutrition staff member has shown any symptoms.”

School board trustees voted to extend paid sick leave for any employee who needs to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19.

“All students, parents, and staff not performing essential duties on campuses are encouraged to stay home, to practice social distancing and proper hygiene, and to remain home unless it is absolutely necessary,” Glenn said. “Local health officials are concerned about community spread, and staying home is the best way to protect yourselves and other members of our community.”

“We understand that this is a trying and scary time, and Granbury ISD is doing everything possible to ensure that meals are prepared and delivered in a safe manner,” he added. “We are also committed to supporting students and parents with virtual instruction and with counseling assistance.”

The district has extended school closures until May 4.

Graduation is set to be May 22, but it’s unclear if graduation will take place in person or online. Prom has been moved to May 15. Granbury ISD now has a COVID-19 information section on its website: https://www.granburyisd.org/coronavirus.

Jeff Meador, the school district’s director of communications, said the district has shifted to virtual learning at home and is communicating through email or social media.

“We are doing a lot of Zoom conferences with all grade levels,” Meador explained. “They are meeting virtually and getting to talk with their students that way. It’s a big hurdle for teachers who are used to having kids in front of them. Technology has become a big part of K-12 instruction, so a lot of our teachers are tech savvy and are able to adjust easier. Trying to find ways to contacts each student individually to check in, see if there’s things they need or speak with them and give some instructional coaching, so they’re not falling behind.”

Granbury ISD has dispersed about 2,600 Chromebooks so students can access to Google classroom applications and other resources.

In addition, “we have provided low tech options to complete assignments or get some instruction available through packets they can take home and complete,” Meador explained. “Some of our campuses are sending out general activities that students can do on their own. They are communicating through our Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as text messages. There are both opportunities for those who do and do not have internet.”

Granbury ISD continues to provide meals for students through the school district’s Child Nutrition Department and through local community organizations and churches.

“We are providing meals through a drive-through service at our high school and got about 11 or 12 community sites where we’re delivering meals every weekday,” Meador said. “We are also doing home deliveries of those lunches to people that have transportation issues and cannot get to the high school or community sites.”

The nonprofit Mission Granbury and local churches have collaborated to provide additional food that Granbury ISD is delivering on Fridays to help cover the weekends.

“I think food is definitely a big issue, but hopefully we’ve been able to address those in need,” Meador said.

Some people have lost their jobs for the time being or their workplace has been closed, he added.

“I’m expecting that a lot of people are filing for unemployment,” Meador said. “I think by and large the community has come together meeting the needs of people as they reach out and share their specific needs with us.”


Six positive cases confirmed; Baptist church staff member dies

Reporting by Hannah Loomis

Palo Pinto General Hospital reported on April 9 that the county now has five confirmed cases of COVID-19. The hospital so far has tested 172 patients, with 117 coming back negative and 50 still pending.

The Mineral Wells Index reported late on April 9 that Steve Richards, who served on the staff of First Baptist Church of Mineral Wells for nearly 29 years, was the first person from Mineral Wells to die from complications of COVID-19. The newspaper reported Richards died at a Tarrant County hospital.

The hospital has created a coronavirus hotline staffed by nurse practitioners to answer questions. The hotline is available daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 940-328-6555.

The City of Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County both issued local disaster declarations. The city also said it would not cut off utilities if residents could not pay their bills during the disaster period.

County school districts in Gordon, Graford, Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto, Santo and Strawn will remain closed until further notice.

“At this time, these Palo Pinto County school districts have opted not to provide an estimated return-to school date due to uncertainties related to the severity and duration of the pandemic and due to the likelihood that any date selected might have to be extended again,” the districts said in a joint statement.


Seventeen active cases; justice of the peace tested positive

Reporting by Lesli Morales and Taylor Parson

Parker County Judge Pat Deen said in his April 9 update about the coronavirus that the county has five active COVID-19 cases and four patients still recovering. Four people have been listed as “recovered.”

Of the active cases, three are in Weatherford – a man in his 30s and a man and a woman in their 60s, according to a chart Deen posted. One was from Lipan – a man in his 60s – and one in Peaster – a female in her 80s.

“It must be noted, these three positive cases are not new, but were initially listed under the wrong zip code that put them into another county,” Deen said. “In working with DSHS (the Texas Department of State Health Services), we have corrected our charts to reflect this information.”

The patients listed as “recovered” were from Azle, Springtown and Weatherford, with ages ranging from the 30s to the 70s.

The exposure source for all the confirmed and active cases and recovered cases as “unknown/community spread.”

Parker County Commissioners approved a 30-day declaration of local disaster order in March.

Judge Kelvin Miles, justice of the peace for Precinct One in Springtown, last month revealed on his Facebook page that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he became ill about three weeks ago and went to his doctor and was tested for the flu, which came back negative. Then he learned he tested positive for COVID-19.

Judge Kelvin Miles, a Parker County justice of the peace, disclosed on Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Photo courtesy Parker County

“I don’t want to start a panic,” Miles wrote. “I’m almost 63 and I’m going to survive this.”

He said for the first five days he had fever, chills, body aches, fatigue and didn’t sleep much.

“I’m on the mend now and have been advised to stay home another two weeks and I am,” he continued in his post. “I have not had contact with anyone except my wife and have both not left the house…. This is not fun but we will survive this. If you have the symptoms go get checked out. And please stay home and not spread this.”

One confirmed case in Lipan; feels “almost like a ghost town”

Reporting by Tyler Barabas

Parker County Judge Pat Deen said in a statement that as of April 9, one person from Lipan had tested positive. That person was a male in his 60s, who is self-monitoring and still recovering. The cause of his infection was listed as “unknown/community spread.”

Lipan ISD will remain closed through May 1. The district has posted online learning resources on its website, https://sites.google.com/lipanindians.net/resources-lipan-isd/home.

Asked how the pandemic is impacting the community, Lipan ISD Superintendent Ralph Carter said, “It is starting to affect small businesses in our area. Almost like a ghost town with everyone staying inside.”


Non-resident tests positive; Glen Rose ISD moves learning online

Reporting by Madi Reed and Alison Pickering

Glen Rose Medical Center reported that its first positive case of COVID-19, a non-resident who came in for testing.

“Somervell County had one person from Hood County come over to be tested,” Mayor Pam Miller said in an email interview. “At this time, Somervell County has no one listed as positive. 

The city is following the governor’s mandates….”

“The schools are providing breakfast and lunches home with students,” she added.
I think everyone is doing OK as far as food, etc….We are a small community and I believe people are helping others as needed and doing the social distancing as much as possible.” 

Somervell County Commissioners have issued a disaster declaration.

Glen Rose ISD Superintendent Wayne Rotan said the school district has spent the past three years transferring students’ work to online platforms such as Canvas, “which has made the transition from face-to-face classes to online learning earlier easier for everyone.”

The district has used Zoom for teachers to continue teaching students.

 “It has been a great transition,” Rotan said.

Glen Rose ISD also has been providing breakfast and lunch for students at five delivery sites  throughout the county.

The district is following the governor’s directive to keep schools closed through May 4.

“The health and safety of students and staff is our top priority,” Rotan said. “I am proud of our students and staff who have embraced this challenge with optimism.”

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