Thursday, March 5, 2020

Harris County Reports First Two Cases of COVID-19

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is reporting its first two confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Harris County. The tests have been verified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A man and a woman from the unincorporated area of northwest Harris County, outside the City of Houston, tested positive for COVID-19. These cases are travel-related and, at this time, there is no evidence of community spread.

Since the global outbreak began, epidemiologists from HCPH have been investigating and identifying all potential cases in Harris County, including these two individuals, any other individuals being tested, and any contacts with these individuals to determine if they need to be tested and/or quarantined for COVID-19. HCPH is experienced in these procedures and routinely investigates infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

These are the second and third confirmed cases reported in the Houston metropolitan area; Fort Bend County reported a presumptive positive case on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

“Since January, we have been at an elevated level of readiness to prepare for and respond to a positive case here in Harris County,” said Harris County Public Health Executive Director, Dr. Umair A Shah, MD, MPH. “We will continue to take action by identifying potential contacts and monitoring them closely.”

“The best tools to fight the spread of this illness are facts, not fear,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Residents should know that we have been leaning forward to make sure our response to this illness continues to be proactive and coordinated with a wide array of local, state and federal officials. Each of our residents is a member of our public health team, and we are urging everyone to learn the facts about this virus and take simple steps to help contain the spread by visiting www.ReadyHarris.org.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that first emerged in China and has now spread to many countries, including the U.S. While HCPH understands our residents will be concerned, we also know that more than 80% of people who have become infected only experience mild to moderate symptoms and fully recover. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. People at higher risk for serious complications are the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

If you do feel sick and believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your health care provider or a hospital immediately. Describe your symptoms and travel history. If they recommend testing, go as soon as possible to protect yourself and those around you. Testing is confidential. HCPH does not release information about suspected cases to encourage people to get tested and many people test negative.

HCPH is working closely with other area public health departments, including the Houston Health Department, medical experts, providers, hospitals and state and federal health officials. Harris County residents can help prevent the spread of this virus by taking the same preventive measures used to protect against colds and flu:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick. Keeping a sick child at home prevents the spread of illness in the school and community and allows your child an opportunity to rest and recover. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.