The coronavirus in Texas: Here is what you need to know

Coronavirus in Texas
An employee wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant to sanitize a train amid coronavirus fears in the country of Georgia. – Photo by Irakli Gedenidze of REUTERS/The Texas Tribune




The Texas Tribune


COVID-19 was officially declared a worldwide pandemic Wenesday by the World Health Organization.

Less than a week after U.S. health officials warned it is a matter of when, not if, an outbreak would hit the U.S., Texas has its first possible case of community spread of the virus, in Montgomery County near Houston.

Local and state officials in Texas are taking action to prevent the further spread of the new deadly strain of coronavirus that originated in China.

Here’s what you need to know:


How many people in Texas have coronavirus?

As of Wenesday morning, there have been 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus in Texas.

One of the newest cases  was a man in Montgomery County, near Houston, who tested positive on Wednesday. Officials said they did not know how he became infected.

“It could very likely be the first community spread,” said Alicia Williams, director of the Montgomery County Public Health District.

On Monday, a man in his 30s living in Collin County that recently traveled to California was confirmed to have tested positive. It was the first case in Texas thought to be transmitted domestically.

Collin County Health Services press release stated that the patient is stable and in isolation in his own home because his symptoms do not require hospitalization. His condition is being monitored by the county.

On Tuesday morning, Collin County Judge Chris Hill announced that the Frisco man had passed the disease to his wife and 3-year-old child, one of the family’s four children. The toddler is among the youngest people in the U.S. to have tested positive.

That same day, officials at Saint Thomas’ Episcopal School in Houston announced that the private school would close immediately for two weeks because of a student’s possible exposure to the virus, according to Houston’s Fox 26 television station.

On March 5, two other cases were identified in Harris County – home to Houston. Officials said they were travel-related, as well.

Another case was identified March 3 in Fort Bend County. Officials said he was in his 70s and had recently traveled abroad. That was the state’s first coronavirus case identified outside of a Texas quarantine site.

Eleven other cases were among people who caught the COVID-19 disease overseas and were quarantined at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Patients at the base confirmed or suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus were transferred from quarantine to the Texas Center for Infectious Disease or local hospitals to receive medical care in isolation, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

It’s not clear how many of those diagnosed patients are Texans. Meanwhile, more than 120 people in San Antonio being quarantined at the Air Force were released March 3. This comes after the group’s mandatory 14-day quarantine ended.


Other news across Texas

Passengers flying into select airports are being screened for the virus. Multiple universities have issued travel bans and canceled study abroad programs to and from China and also Italy, which has the highest number of cases outside Asia.

Rice University asked 17 individuals to self-quarantine after a research assistant had contact with a possible case of the virus while traveling. After returning from Italy, around 70 asymptomatic people from the University of Texas at San Antonio were also required to isolate themselves off campus for 14 days.

On Sunday, San Antonio health officials said someone with a “weakly positive” test result for the new coronavirus was briefly released from quarantine after testing negative twice. That person was the only person to test positive out of a group of 91 people who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, to San Antonio in February and quarantined for 14 days, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials are notifying Texans who came into contact with the individual while that person was released.


Is coronavirus spreading person-to-person in Texas?

Yes. 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.

In Texas, the Frisco man passed the virus to his wife and 3-year-old child. And officials are investigating a case of possible community spread in Montgomery County.

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. County officials said they expected the person’s test to come back positive.


Testing in Texas

Austin officials said Tuesday at least one person is being tested for the virus in Travis County. Federal officials are expanding criteria for people to be eligible for testing, so there will likely be more reports of possible cases in the coming days and weeks. For now, those tests are being sent to an out-of-state lab – but Texas facilities will be online soon for more immediate tests.


How many cases are in the U.S.?

The number of cases is rapidly growing, according to the CDC. Nationally, there were 938 reported cases reported in 39 states and the District of Columbia, in which 29 people have died, as of Wedesday. Globally, over 120,000 were reported to have the disease and more than 4,000 people have died.


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 has a higher fatality rate than the flu. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine available to prevent or reduce cases of coronavirus.


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 on 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.


There was a report about a possible vaccine. Is that good?

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.


This article was first published at by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.


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