With four cases of Novel Coronavirus in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, public risk remains low officials say

R. HANS MILLER | TIMES SENIOR REPORTER
Posted 3/6/20

Less than 24 hours after Fort Bend County announced its first “presumptive positive” case of Novel Coronavirus, Harris County officials have announced three more cases. Two of the new …

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With four cases of Novel Coronavirus in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, public risk remains low officials say

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Less than 24 hours after Fort Bend County announced its first presumptive positive case of Novel Coronavirus, Harris County officials have announced three more cases. Two of the new cases have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, Harris County officials said. The cases are all travel-related and there is no evidence of community spread County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

“At this time, there is no evidence of community spread. The risk of COVID-19 to our community is low,” a Harris County press release stated.

Harris County Public Health reported its first two cases of the virus – also known as COVID-19 – early Thursday afternoon and a news release later in the day announced another. According to the two press releases from Harris County a man and a woman in northwest Harris County outside of the city of Houston tested positive for the disease and both cases have been verified by the Centers for Disease Control. The third case is a man between the ages of 60 and 70 who is in the hospital in stable condition.

“The threat of COVID-19 to the general public in [Greater] Houston remains low and there is currently no need to cancel local events or classes,” said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health.

Officials in both counties urged the public not to panic but to use sensible precautions as they would with any other ailment such as the flu or other respiratory illnesses.

“The best tools to fight the spread of this illness are facts, not fear,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “Residents should know that we have been leaning forward to make sure our response to this illness continues to be proactive and coordinated with a wide array of local, state and federal officials.”

A press conference held by Fort Bend County officials included health department representatives from Fort Bend and Harris counties as well as the city of Houston’s health department.

All cases in both counties appear to be travel-related at this time and there is no evidence of the disease spreading throughout the community according to both counties’ health departments.

“Having a COVID-19 case in Texas is a significant development in this outbreak, but it doesn’t change the fact that the immediate risk to most Texans is low,” said Department of State Health Services Dr. John Hellerstedt regarding the Fort Bend County case. “This travel-related case reinforces the fact that we should all be taking basic hygiene steps that are extremely effective in limiting limit the spread of COVID-19 and all respiratory illnesses.”

According to the World Health Organization, Coronaviruses – abbreviated CoV – are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – the SARS virus. Novel Coronavirus is prevented in the same way as other viruses in the Coronavirus family by regular hand washing, avoiding touching the face, covering coughs and sneezes, cooking meat and eggs thoroughly and disinfecting surfaces that are touched or handled regularly.

“While [Harris County Public Health] understands our residents will be concerned, we also know that more than 80% of people who have become infected only experience mild to moderate symptoms and fully recover,” Harris County’s public statement said.

Health Authority for the city of Houston, Dr. David Persse said the case in Fort Bend County was tested by a Houston lab and found to be positive. Cases tested this way are established as “presumptive positive” diagnoses. Once the presumptive diagnosis is made, medical professionals begin treatment for the virus, he said. Specimens are then sent to the CDC for confirmation.

“At this point we have no reason to believe that [the presumptive positive test result] is anything other than accurate and it is in fact actionable, so this is why we are moving forward and … behaving as if it is actionable because it is in fact [actionable],” Persse said.

Symptoms of the COVID-19 virus include fever, cough and shortness of breath, the statement added. The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of serious complications. Officials encouraged anyone with symptoms to visit their primary care physicians.

Fort Bend County Judge KP George took to Facebook via video in the afternoon to announce the county had launched two new phone lines to ensure Fort Bend residents and healthcare professionals were informed regarding the virus and any new cases. Residents can reach the county at 281-633-7795 while medical professionals may call 281-344-6118.

“This is an evolving situation,” George said. “We are working with all federal, state, regional and local health authorities and experts on monitoring the situation. As more information becomes available we will provide the most accurate and verified information.”

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Harris County had created an SMS messaging service to keep residents informed. Anyone wanting to sign up for the messaging service can text CV19 to 888777. Additionally, information is available at www.readyharris.org.

While no cases associated with schools have been reported, Katy ISD has created a website to keep parents informed about the district’s efforts related to the virus, KISD Media Relations Manager Maria DiPetta said. The site can be found at: http://www.katyisd.org/Pages/Coronavirus-Information.aspx

Officials said residents should continue to go about their day to day lives and simply remember to focus on basic things like washing hands, avoiding close contact with those who are sick and staying home from work or school if they are ill.

“You can continue going to work and school as you normally do because we don’t have that evidence of community-wide transmission,” Hidalgo said. “We have a self-contained group. We can continue to go about our days.”

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