After cases of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continued to appear in the United States, the City of Lubbock hosted a news conference Monday to discuss city preparations against the virus.
Katherine Wells, director of Public Health in the City of Lubbock, said the public health department is closely monitoring the situation and is following public health plans used to respond to outbreaks.
"To start, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lubbock or in our surrounding region," she said. "Over the weekend, new cases of COVID-19 were reported in multiple states."
Those individuals who were infected with the virus had no known travel history or contact with ill people, Wells said. This indicates there is local transmission in the U.S.
"So, during this time, the goals of the health department are to inform our local healthcare providers so they can identify those who are at risk," she said.
The spread is limited to certain communities, such as in California, Washington and Oregon, but person-to-person spread has not been seen in Texas, Wells said.
The public health department will investigate all suspected cases of coronavirus, Wells said. Suspected cases consisted of a person who has a fever, has upper respiratory symptoms and has traveled in the last 14 days to an area with known coronavirus transmission, such as certain Asian countries.
"The March 1 [World Health Organization] situational report is showing that there are 62 cases in the United States," she said. "These numbers are small compared to the nearly 80,000 cases that they have reported in China and the 7,000 reports in other countries."
Regarding the severity of the coronavirus, which is one of the Coronaviridae, Ron Cook, Public Health Authority for the City of Lubbock, said one has already been infected with a coronavirus if he or she has had the common cold before. The coronavirus, which causes respiratory infections, can be very mild to very severe.
"What's new about this one? It's called a novel virus this time because it's normally carried in animals," he said.
Researchers suspect the coronavirus was found in a seafood mart in China, Cook said. This is the first time this coronavirus has been seen in humans.
"So, we don't know exactly how it works, what medicines will work against it and also how it presents the disease," he said.
Regarding the person-to-person transmitted virus, Cook said one can get it from someone else who coughs or sneezes. Some symptoms include fever, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If one is of older age or has comorbid conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, he or she is more at risk at a poor outcome.
Lethargy, the inability to eat or drink, dehydration, rapid breathing and a rapid heart rate all are signs one should worry about if they present them, Cook said.
"Please call ahead. Don't just show up," Cook said regarding people with worrisome signs who want to seek medical attention. "Call the ER, call your primary care office, your provider's office and get us a heads up, so we can deliver the best care possible for you."
Regardless, if a person in Lubbock is determined to have the coronavirus, Wells said the person will be isolated, tested and monitor. Contact tracing will begin after identifying the ill individual.
"And this is the process of identifying those who have been in close contact with a suspected case, evaluating their health status and then monitoring those individuals during incubation period," Wells said. "And these steps are all going to be taken or will be taken to interrupt any human-to-human transmission."
People who feel they have the coronavirus can self-report by calling the health department at (806) 775-2933, Wells said.
If there is a confirmed case in Lubbock, Wells said health providers will be notified through a health alert and local media will be notified via a news release.
"The likelihood of seeing some of it here is probably pretty real," Cook said. "I don't know when it will occur. We have to act as if it were going to occur, and that's what we're preparing for."
The coronavirus has a two-percent death rate, Cook said. Last year, the flu death rate was around 18 to 19 percent.
"We don't need to panic," he said. "We need to take care and do good personal hygiene."
Since the symptoms are similar to those of the flu, Cook said one should get the flu vaccine as soon as possible in order to make it easier to determine whether one has the flu or an illness related to the coronavirus.
Prevention efforts include washing one's hands, sanitizing hands, sneezing and coughing in one's elbow or in a tissue, staying away from sick individuals and staying away from people if one is sick, Cook said.
People should not buy a lot of face masks to prevent themselves from catching the virus, Cook said. The only exceptions are if one is sick or is taking care of a sick person.
W. Jarrett Atkinson, city manager for the City of Lubbock, said even though the Department of Public Health and Cook are the lead in situations regarding the coronavirus, the rest of the city, such as the Office of Emergency Management, will support efforts from the health department.
"They work," he said regarding health department plans for a possible outbreak, "and we will follow those plans."
The Office of Emergency Management also has contingency plans in place in case of an outbreak, Atkinson said.
"If that were to occur, we think, first, we would like to be in a position to disseminate information," he said.
Continuity of Operations plans are available in case a lot of city workers are sick and services still need to be provided to the public, Atkinson said. These plans will encompass all essential services of the city.