By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
In order to address the needs and concerns of citizens in Dallas County regarding the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on people, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of District 30 held a teletownhall meeting March 17.
The telemeeting included public officials such as Johnson, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Philip Huang and Dr. Roberto De La Cruz, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Parkland Hospital.
Residents of District 30 called in with questions and concerns they had about COVID-19. The following is a Q&A from the conference.
Question: How does the coronavirus spread?
Johnson: It spreads by personal contact and contacting others who might have the virus on something they are handling through the hands or through the nose. But it has to be personal contact. That is why there are a lot of reasons to keep your hands washed and stop shaking hands. And to make sure that you stay as safe a distance from people and environment as possible. That’s why we do not want a large number of people gathering together.
De La Cruz: This is a virus that spreads by droplets by air. So as an example when you have somebody that is sneezing they create a lot of fall air particles and that is how you spread airborne or viruses that are of this kind. So because of that you can have the virus in your hands or if you touch your nose or your mouth. If you touched your nose or your nasal secretions. It is a virus that is spread on that route only as far as we know right now.
And that is why the recommendations that have been put forth have been to have particular hand washing to prevent touching your eyes, face and mouth. And to wipe all surfaces clean when you have had people that are sick around you. Social isolation meaning trying to stay home and not be around sick people should be very effective as well because it will minimize your risk of being in contact with somebody who is sick and may have the virus that is in their bodies and in their hands and their nose.
Q: What symptoms should I be watching for?
De La Cruz: The symptoms that you should be watching for are unfortunately not very specific to the virus. So the symptoms could be as simple as a runny nose, congestion and cough and also to more severe patients having a high fever with chills and body weakness and dizziness.
It is similar to what you would have with the flu. So if you think about having the flu, there are a myriad of symptoms you could have with the flu from being very minimally symptomatic to being very, very ill and requiring hospital stay. If you have fever or shakes and chills and are lightheaded and not breathing well, those are significant warning signs that need to have specific attention and further evaluation.
We are asking people not to go to the emergency department if they have mild symptoms at this time because we do not have the capacity to test everybody that comes into an emergency department and if you have mild symptoms you will not be required to be admitted to the hospital. We are requesting that people who have mild symptoms heed the warnings that have been put forth by the health care authorities and stay home because that is the best way we can prevent further spread of the disease.
Q: What is the status of the United States Postal Service? Is USPS going to stay open during this time or have they considered any government buildings being closed down?
Johnson: I don’t know about the postal service and I have not heard that they would not be delivering mail. There are cutbacks in many of the government services where people are distancing themselves and working by virtual technology. But I have not heard of any federal service completely shutting down.
Q: Is the president going to issue a quarantine for the nation?
Johnson: I have no idea what the president is going to do at this point and will only know when he announces it.
Q: The information that I have heard has said that seniors over 65 with underlying conditions, of which I am – I have diabetes – and I went and got tested and was denied because of the temperature I had didn’t meet the threshold for testing, is that going to be eliminated?
Johnson: I have no idea of what changes may be made. I know that test kits are somewhat limited and the physicians are checking very closely to make sure that it is necessary to do the test. I have had a number of calls from people who wanted the test but they have to be examined by the physician and to see whether or not it is warranted.
De La Cruz: Currently, testing is being done in patients that are in the hospital setting to enable us to give the appropriate treatment and to isolate patients that are positive and allow us to expedite to discharge patients that get better. There is a group of patients that have chronic medical illness perhaps are taking medications that are risky and are predisposed to have medical illnesses and infection and those patients we are recommending testing only if they have symptoms of fever and they are moderately ill but not mildly ill.
So for the caller, I would recommend she maintain monitoring and definitely if her symptoms change that she attempt to reengage with the clinical practitioner and see if testing is indicated at that time.
Jenkins: For the caller, for the people over 65, and for people with underlying health conditions like yours, it is so important to just hunker down and stay away from other people for the time being. Like Trump said, limit social gatherings to 10 or less. But if you got diabetes then really you should just limit it to as little as is absolutely necessary.
The situation is more widespread than we are able to show you right now due to limited testing. So you need to stay home. Everyone needs to take this extremely seriously and we are going to try to open two new test sites. We have the capacity to test 2,500 people per test site so 5,000 per week that will be focused on people with underlying conditions and over 65.
Concern: I am 65 years old and I have underlying medical conditions. I have a family of three and we have been trying since yesterday to get somebody to just help us with getting some food for us, some cleaning supplies and I have come up with a big zero from everybody I have called so far. We have no food in our house right now and no cleaning supplies and unfortunately have no money.
Johnson: The only thing I can suggest at this point is to contact the North Texas Food Bank to get food. As far as cleaning supplies, I am not sure where we could do that.
Jenkins: People in that situation, if you can call 211 and the operator will see what is available to help you. We are scrambling and I know the faith community is helping with this. We know a lot of people are being laid off due to what is happening with the economy. We know that grocery stores are a little low. Contacting the North Texas Food Bank will probably be your next call.
Q: Children playing on public playground equipment in large groups, is it safe for children to be in public places like parks or should they be restricted like they do in Asia and when can we expect that to happen?
Huang: I think one of the principles in terms of significant contact and close contact is really when you have someone within 6 feet distance exposed to someone longtime that you have the coronavirus. Or exposed to someone with droplets through cough and sneezing so in general that is the type of separation that you are going to protect from.
So the scenario that you are talking about if they are in that close contact, there is that possibility for transmission so social distancing and the whole policy we are recommending are trying to prevent that sort of exposure. If children are sick, they need to stay home and not go out. Also, making sure everything is sterile is also important.
Jenkins: Everything that we do at this point carries some amount of risk to it. We have not restricted at this point people taking walks around the neighborhood or people going to the playground. But we are strongly recommending that people congregate in groups no bigger than 10. And if you are over 65 or with underlying health conditions you don’t congregate at all. So that is where we are now. So for now public parks are still open.
Q: Is there going to be a disruption in bus or public transportation services for those who may have to go to work?
Jenkins: For right now, we have not disrupted DART service or any bus services. There are no easy choices here. But people have to be able to get to work. People have to be able to get to the grocery stores and so DART has also been working hard to keep you safe and keep the buses extra clean. Use that social distancing as possible, stay apart within six feet. A lot of people are not currently using DART as they normally would so that would give one a chance to stay a good distance from one another.
Q: What is the safest way to shop for food? Usually, when you go to the store, they make you use a touch pad or touch screen for what you are buying. So I want to know, what is the safest way to shop for food?
Huang: All of these places are trying to regularly clean their surfaces that are regularly touched. That is also what you need for your own personal protection. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if you don’t have soap and water, using a hand sanitizer is how you can protect yourself.
Q: What about money. That is really nasty. When you are transferring money from people to people, what should we do?
Huang: That would be making sure you wash your hands after handling money and don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth. That is how you can protect yourself from those situations.