Although there is only one positive case of COVID-19, also known as novel coronavirus, in all of Texas currently, local officials are still on guard for the eventual spread of the virus, which has sickened at least 96 nationwide and killed six so far.
The virus spreads, the World Health Organization and other experts said, largely by viral droplet of mucus or saliva propelled onto another person from an infected person. The WHO says 3 feet is a safe distance from an infected person, but the Centers for Disease Control says 6.
The CDC said symptoms can appear as early as two days after exposure, and up to 16 days, and primarily include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
“Diseases from coronaviruses typically cause mild to moderate illness, like the common cold. Some, like the SARS or MERS viruses, have caused more severe illness,” explained Dallas County Health and Human Services director Philip Huang. “The current novel coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, is still primarily impacting areas within China, but there have been confirmed cases in other countries including the United States.”
“Most U.S. cases are associated with repatriation efforts to return individuals from areas abroad with high rates of COVID-19 — these cases were expected, identified, well-controlled, and do not pose a threat to the public.”
Because there have been no confirmed cases in the county, Huang said the health risk to the general public is low. The county is working with other regional organizations to prevent the spread through screening travelers at DFW International Airport, and through outreach and education.
Prevention for the coronavirus, Huang said, is the same common-sense measures recommended for flu prevention: Staying home when sick, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are unavailable, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, avoid close contact with those that are sick, regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects, and covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
The seasonal flu has killed 17 so far in Dallas. The most recent county influenza surveillance report was for the week ending February 22. Flu tests returned positive results 20% of the time, with 127 flu-related hospitalizations. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) tests decreased, with 5.1% percent of tests reporting positive.
Dallas ISD is also monitoring the spread of the coronavirus, and has created a website to keep parents, teachers, and staff advised of any outbreaks and responses. The district is also sending letters to campuses to go home with students.
“Custodial staff will perform extra cleaning of schools and district offices, and school bus drivers have been asked to clean bus interiors,” the district said in a statement. “If needed, the district has access to large-scale outside vendors who can deep-clean classrooms and schools. School closures are among options available to control the spread of the virus if recommended by the CDC or other health authorities.”
Highland Park ISD told parents in a recent newsletter that it was working with the DCHHS to monitor the situation, too.
“For an added layer of precaution, our nursing staff has developed guidelines based on symptoms provided by the Center for Disease Control,” the district said. “The assessment involves determining if the staff member or student is showing signs of the respiratory illness, has traveled to Wuhun, China in the past 14 days or been in close contact in the past 14 days with someone who may have coronovirus or someone diagnosed with 2019-nCoV.”
The county has created a fact page, and the Texas Department of State Health Services has established a hotline (877-570-9779) that is manned from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.