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Coronavirus in Texas is prompting major event cancellations, the extension of college spring breaks and a handful of school closures as the number of cases surpasses 30. Also, health officials say they may have identified at least one case of the virus being spread through the community.
Here’s what you need to know.
How many people in Texas have coronavirus?
There have been at least 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in Texas.
Is coronavirus spreading person to person in Texas?
Yes. A Frisco man who traveled to California passed the virus to his wife and 3-year-old child. His relatives’ positive tests were publicly disclosed March 10. And officials in Montgomery County said March 11 they had identified a patient with coronavirus who doesn’t have any recent travel history, meaning community spread of the disease could be in Texas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines community spread as the “occurrence of cases for which the source of infection is unknown.”
Dallas County’s second case was a person in their 50s who “is a close contact” of a 77-year-old “out-of-state traveler.” Both Dallas County cases were disclosed March 10. County officials said they expected the second person’s coronavirus test to come back positive and “there is not a cause for concern.”
The first instance of coronavirus spreading from person to person in the U.S. occurred in January, when a 60-year-old woman from Illinois contracted the virus in China and transferred the virus to her spouse, according to the CDC.
Are school districts closing?
Yes, but only temporarily so far. As of March 11, at least two Texas public school districts in areas near confirmed coronavirus cases have already temporarily canceled classes.
What are colleges and universities doing?
More than a dozen Texas universities have announced that they would extend students’ spring breaks and would at least temporarily switch to online classes. Trinity University is transitioning to remote teaching for the remainder of the spring semester and permanently closing residence halls beginning March 16. Texas Tech University has canceled classes the week after its spring break and said teaching will move online beginning March 30. Rice University canceled in-person classes for the week of March 9 after an employee, one of several Houston-area residents who had been on a contaminated cruise in Egypt, tested positive for the virus.
Many colleges and universities have canceled events, prohibited large gatherings, stepped up their sanitation measures and restricted university-sponsored travel.
Have there been major event cancellations in Texas?
Yes. South by Southwest — an annual international festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the state’s capital — was canceled after Austin and Travis County officials issued local disaster declarations. That is one of the state’s biggest cancellations of conferences, major events or festivals in response to COVID-19. The 10-day event was scheduled to begin March 13.
Houston officials also decided March 11 to cancel the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo amid a seven-day emergency health declaration. On the same day, San Antonio officials said the Fiesta San Antonio Commission has no plans to cancel the weeklong Fiesta celebration in April because the event date is too far away, but they will be taking extra precautions.
And the University of Texas at Austin’s home sporting events will be played without fans in attendance through March 22. Its athletics teams will continue to “travel to road competitions as scheduled at this time,” according to the department’s website. The National Collegiate Athletic Association said men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments in March will not be open to the public.
What’s the latest at Texas’ federal quarantine site in San Antonio?
The state’s first 11 cases were people who caught the COVID-19 disease overseas and were quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Since February, hundreds of American evacuees from China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the illness’ outbreak, and two cruise ships have stayed on the base during their quarantine periods.
The 11 people who tested positive while in quarantine were sent to San Antonio’s Texas Center for Infectious Disease for isolated treatment. Ten of those people remained there as of March 10.
Almost 100 people from a cruise ship arrived at Lackland to be quarantined on March 10, after the initial hundreds of evacuees who tested negative had been allowed to leave. San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh said there are 120 more people expected to come to Lackland from the same cruise ship on March 11. But people who aren’t from Texas are being rerouted to their home states, the San Antonio Express-News reported, in what it called a “last-minute change of plans” that has flustered officials throughout the government.
How does coronavirus compare with the flu?
Coronavirus comes with seasonal flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Severe cases of the virus can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. It also can be deadly for a small percentage of the population, according to the World Health Organization.
Similar to respiratory illnesses like the flu, coronavirus spreads from person-to-person contact, such as coughing, sneezing or touching infected surfaces, according to the CDC. Both diseases are especially dangerous for people who are older than 65, but the flu is more dangerous for children and pregnant women, according to The New York Times.
However, early reports indicate the coronavirus appears to be more contagious and have a higher fatality rate than the flu. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine available to prevent or reduce cases of coronavirus.
How long does it take for symptoms to start showing?
The time between catching COVID-19 and showing symptoms — the incubation period — ranges from one to 14 days, most commonly five days, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO plans to update that estimate as more information is gathered.
What’s the fatality rate for coronavirus?
“Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said March 4. The seasonal flu has a mortality rate of about 0.1%.
According to a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the fatality rates for the elderly or people with other underlying health conditions can be much higher — as high as 14% for people over the age of 80.
It is important to note that it is very early and data is still being gathered, so the fatality rate for COVID-19 could change, according to PBS NewsHour.
What is the course of the virus? How long does it last?
It depends. Once someone is infected, they can face symptoms from days to weeks depending on the severity of the illness. Some patients show only mild symptoms and may not initially require hospitalization, while other patients’ symptoms worsen to lower respiratory tract infection in the second week of illness. For this reason, all patients should closely monitor their symptoms.
There are some risk factors for progression to more severe illness including older age and underlying conditions like lung disease, cancer, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, renal disease, liver disease, diabetes, immunocompromising conditions, and pregnancy, according to the CDC.
“The severity seems to mostly be with older individuals and individuals with underlying debilitating conditions,” said Peter Hotez, professor and dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “Also, health care workers seem to get sicker than other populations.”
Does the flu shot help you / help lessen the severity of coronavirus if you get it?
No. The flu shot builds up an immunity specifically to the flu, so it won’t lessen the severity of or protect from COVID-19.
It could hypothetically help since “if someone got sick with the flu, and if their body was run down overall, then theoretically they might be more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 infection,” said Monica Schoch-Spana, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Senior Scholar.
But doctors are still urging people to get the flu shot, in the hopes of freeing up crucial hospital beds.
Does Texas have tests for the coronavirus? What is testing like? How do I get tested?
A doctor can determine whether the test is necessary using guidance from the CDC. The test includes a mouth and nose swab. That sample is then sent to the nearest public health lab for testing.
Abbott announced March 5 there are six public health labs open in Texas for COVID-19 testing, with plans to have four additional labs open by the end of month. The labs are in Austin, Houston, Dallas, El Paso, Lubbock and Fort Worth, and the additional labs will be in Tyler, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Harlingen. Once all 10 are open, Abbott said the state lab network should be able to perform 125 tests a day.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said March 9 that his city does not have enough tests available for residents.
I saw a headline about a possible vaccine for the coronavirus. Is that good news?
While it is true researchers are testing possible solutions, they are almost certainly a long way off from a commercially available vaccine that could prevent the virus. Don’t expect anything immediate.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN it would take around a year for a potential vaccine to be approved. He said the vaccine would need to go through a Phase 1 clinical trial with a few dozen people for three months and then be tested in a second trial with hundreds of people for six to eight months, according to CNN.
How long does the virus live on surfaces?
Studies suggest it may last for a few hours or up to several days, depending on the type of surface and the temperature and humidity of the room, according to the World Health Organization. More specifically, tests by the U.S. government and scientists found it can last up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Experts advise cleaning frequently touched surfaces — like doorknobs and elevator buttons — with disinfectant and recommend that people wash their hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water, and avoiding touching their eyes, mouth or nose.
However, transmission of the virus from a contaminated surface to a person has not yet been recorded, according to the CDC.
What things can parents do to help protect our children besides making sure our kids wash their hands and are vaccinated?
The CDC recommends children take the same preventive measures as adults: washing hands, avoiding contact with those who are sick and staying up to date on vaccinations. They note there is no evidence children are more susceptible to the virus than adults, and in China, the majority of cases — and the majority of severe symptoms — occur in adults.
Edgar Walters contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at San Antonio and SXSW have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune.
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