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Hello, Houston. Here’s your latest novel coronavirus news from our corner of Texas, the rest of the country and around the world:
The City of Laredo has announced its tenth positive case of COD-19 in Laredo, per Louis San Miguel of the Laredo Morning Times.
City officials say the patient has not travelled and is a case of community transmission — making four such cases in Laredo as of this writing. The patient is currently quarantined and in stable condition.
Liberty County has issued an emergency order for people to remain in their homes, non-essential businesses to close until April 3.
The Galveston County Health district announced one additional positive coronavirus case Wednesday morning, bringing the county’s case total to 22. The infected individual, who is self-quarantined, is a man in his 40s with no known travel or contact with a known positive coronavirus case. The health district believes this is a case of community spread.
City Council on Wednesday gave Mayor Sylvester Turner the power to negotiate with the companies, which are reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, to defer payments to the city until next year.
A middle-aged deputy from the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Office is currently quarantining at his home after showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, according to a release.
The deputy was in contact with another sheriff deputy who recently tested posted for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Police said the man started to show symptoms just days after being exposed to the other deputy.
As of Tuesday evening, 252 people in the eight-county greater Houston area have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and 1,044 people in Texas have tested positive for the virus, according to state data.
The 411 on COVID-19
You can call local public health departments for more information on coronavirus in your community.
- City of Houston: 832-393-4220 (9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday)
- Harris County: 832-927-7575 (9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day)
- Fort Bend County: 281-633-7795 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday)
- Montgomery County: 936‐523‐5040
- Brazoria County: 979-864-2167 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday)
- Galveston County: 409-938-7221, option 1
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What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, sore throat or diarrhea.
I think I may have COVID-19. What should I do?
If your condition is not urgent, contact your doctor or an urgent care clinic. Call ahead in case they need to redirect you to another medical center or emergency room. If your health care provider uses telemedicine, such as video chatting, you may want to consider that to avoid potentially exposing others. Also, many counties have set up special phone lines for coronavirus inquiries from the public; your county public health department should have this information online.
If you believe your symptoms are urgent and you need to go to the ER, try to call ahead so that health care providers are prepared to isolate you and take other precautions to protect you and other patients when you arrive.
Photo: Todd Trumbull
Individuals can request a test for coronavirus, but doctors and public health authorities will decide whether that’s appropriate.
Let’s step back. What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses. Two other kinds of coronaviruses are known to cause SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). Coronaviruses also can cause very mild illness, and are thought to be responsible for 10% to 30% of all common colds.
The new virus is already more widespread than either SARS or MERS. So far it appears to cause less severe illness than those viruses.
How is COVID-19 different from the flu?
COVID-19 and the flu are both infectious respiratory illnesses, but they’re caused by different viruses. They have similar symptoms and are spread by droplets that are expelled with sneezes and coughs. The flu can be prevented with a vaccine and treated with antiviral drugs, but there are not yet similar tools to fight COVID-19.
Tens of thousands of people have died from the flu this season, far eclipsing deaths from COVID-19. But millions of people get the flu every year, and the influenza death rate — about 0.1% — is likely lower than that of COVID-19. Experts still don’t know just how deadly COVID-19 is, but early studies suggest the death rate is about 2%.
How serious is the COVID-19 virus? Who is most at risk?
About 80% of people who have contracted the virus have had mild symptoms and do not need to be hospitalized, according to large studies of cases in China. About 14% become severely ill and 5% critically ill. Those most at risk of becoming seriously ill are over age 50 or have underlying health problems, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, or have weakened immune systems.
A Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found that most people infected were over the age of 30 and had mild symptoms. The death rate was highest — close to 15% — in those over the age of 80. The first U.S. deaths were all among residents of a long-term care facility in Washington state.
The virus appears to be less deadly than SARS or MERS. SARS had a fatality rate of about 10% before it disappeared in 2004. MERS is fatal nearly a third of the time, but is far less transmissible than SARS or COVID-19. Still, the reported cases and deaths are constantly shifting and it’s too soon to know exactly the seriousness of the illness.
How can I best protect myself?
People who are not sick should wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching their face with unwashed hands. They should avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing, sneezing or otherwise obviously ill.
People who are sick should cough or sneeze into their arm or a tissue, not into their hands. Ideally they should stay home and avoid being around other people. In some cases, doctors may advise people who are sick to wear a simple surgical mask in public to avoid infecting others.
Healthy people do not need to wear a mask. Studies have found they are not very effective at preventing illness. Most people become infected by touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands because that’s the easiest way for viruses to enter the body.
Should I avoid school, work or places where large groups gather?
Many Houston-area schools have already decided to close. You can see a full list of closures here.
Public health experts have said that if you have recently returned from a country with a high number of cases, or if you’ve had contact with someone who has COVID-19, you’re generally encouraged to stay at home and not go to work or school for 14 days.
If you are sick and have not traveled recently and have not been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should stay home until your symptoms have passed.
In some communities public health experts are advising that people at high risk of serious illness — people over age 50 and those with pre-existing health problems — avoid places where large crowds gather in close contact.
Otherwise, healthy people do not need to take any special precautions.
Should I cancel domestic or international travel plans?
Keep track of advisories from the U.S. State Department and the CDC that discourage travel to certain countries. If you do travel to those areas, pay attention to what you will need to do upon return.
Any U.S. citizen returning from Hubei province in China is subject to mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Anyone coming back from other parts of China or from countries with high numbers of infections will be asked to quarantine at home for 14 days. Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or a close family member of one won’t be allowed to enter the U.S. for 14 days after you visit China or Iran.
Most airlines have canceled flights to China and are reducing routes to other countries. United has announced some domestic travel reductions, and other carriers may follow suit. Check The Houston Chronicle’s live coverage and individual airline websites for the latest information. Meanwhile, many companies are setting guidelines for employee travel, and some have temporarily stopped domestic travel.
Be aware that if you choose to travel, the situation is changing rapidly: Flights could be canceled or rules put in place at any time. Before booking, canceling or taking a flight, it helps to know what your rights and options are. We’ve compiled tips for traveling during the coronavirus outbreak here.
How did the coronavirus get started?
Chinese health officials alerted the World Health Organization about a growing number of cases of pneumonia caused by an unidentified virus in the city of Wuhan in late December. The new coronavirus was identified about two weeks after that.
Coronaviruses can cross over from animals to humans. The virus that causes SARS is believed to have passed from bats to civets and then to humans, and the MERS virus was linked to camels. But scientists have not yet determined the source of the new coronavirus.
How long is the COVID-19 outbreak expected to last?
That’s not clear. Other coronaviruses, such as those that cause the common cold, tend to be seasonal. But the coronavirus that causes SARS appears to have disappeared about a year after it was identified in 2004. It’s too soon to say what will happen with the new coronavirus.
Jordan Ray, Dana Burke, Alejandro Serrano, Mallory Moench, Erin Allday and Catherine Ho contributed to this report.