The new coronavirus is likely spreading between Victoria County residents, a public health official said Tuesday after three people were confirmed to have the virus.

Those three people mark the first confirmed cases in Victoria County of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s public health authority, at the daily news conference.

It is now “very likely” the new coronavirus is spreading directly between residents, an important marker in the spread of a disease, McNeill said.

“It’s highly likely that is occurring elsewhere (in the county), and I think we will find those cases,” McNeill said. “Hopefully, we can isolate them and eventually stop the spread of this virus.

One of the patients is thought to have been infected through “community spread,” a term that describes when a patient who did not travel to an area where the virus is present is then found to be infected.

Statewide, the number of reported cases reached 715 in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday.

Officials also confirmed the second positive COVID-19 case in adjacent DeWitt County. Matagorda County officials confirmed their fifth and sixth positive case of COVID-19 in a news release Tuesday.

DeWitt County officials said they are working to trace how that person, a Yoakum resident, was infected and whether it was from inside or outside the county.

The new coronavirus was first detected in humans last year, and has since spread to infect more than 300,000 people around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The virus can cause a respiratory infection in humans.

The majority of patients who are infected with the new coronavirus will have mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all.

However, available data from countries that have seen large outbreaks suggest that about one in every five patients infected will require hospital care, according to the WHO.

In Victoria County, two women in their 20s and a man in his 30s are confirmed to have the disease in Victoria County, according to a news release from the Victoria County Public Health Department.

Medical privacy laws prevent officials from releasing identifying information about those people.

Those people are likely “doing pretty well,” McNeill said.

Although local officials referred to the three patients as Victoria County residents, they clarified that point, saying the people could be residents of the city or county. All three sought help at a clinic after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. None of the patients has required hospital care so far.

People older than 65, those with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, those with serious heart conditions and those who are immunocompromised, including those receiving cancer treatment, could be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 regardless of age, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At their Tuesday news conference, Victoria County public health officials said they were working to identify all of those who had come in contact with the community’s first three COVID-19 patients. That process, known as “contact tracing” is essential to the authorities’ strategy in controlling the spread of the virus, officials said.

“That is probably the most important thing we do other than washing our hands,” McNeill said, adding, “Once the virus is in the community, we do everything we can to isolate it. We can’t treat it. We basically have to bottle it up and keep it away from other patients.”

County Judge Ben Zeller further emphasized the importance of contact tracing, saying it was especially important before the virus becomes widespread.

“At this point, we really can prevent further spread by identifying who was exposed,” Zeller said.

Anybody who was in close contact with the patients will be contacted by county health staff. They will be asked to self-isolate and they will be monitored for any symptoms.

The person who was thought to have caught the virus from within the community was not known to the other two patients, but officials said the other two were related.

Contact tracing has yet to be completed on the two related patients, McNeill said.

“That is a very daunting task to say the least,” McNeill said, adding, “(A team) is trying to identify every place where these patients went, who they had communication with, and not just that – did they spend time with them? Did they hug them? Did they get close to them?”

Health officials are monitoring all three people, who have been asked to remain in isolation in their homes.

If a person does not follow requests to isolate themselves, McNeil said he would sign an order that would allow law enforcement to force them to.

Public health officials have not released locations that the three people visited before they were isolated.

McNeill said officials would release that information if it “is necessary.”

“We will be transparent,” he said.

Throughout their Tuesday news conference, public health officials said they had long expected and prepared for the discovery of COVID-19 within the community.

“We’re ahead of the game,” said David Gonzales, director for the Victoria County Public Health Department.

Officials will consider changing their strategy to control the spread of the virus in the community if it becomes “moderate” or “widespread,” Gonzales said.

So far, officials have not handed down shelter-in-place orders that would require residents to remain in their homes except for essential activities.

But they asked residents to continue social distancing, isolation and hygiene practices, which have proved to be the best methods of control without a vaccine or treatment ready.

“Stay at home,” McNeill said Tuesday.

Days ago, city and county officials signed orders prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people. Any found to be breaking that order could be fined or jailed.

Although officials said they were optimistic about the current level of preparation for increasing numbers of infected people in the county, they also said circumstances could change rapidly.

“We’ve gone from last week saying things were changing by the day to saying things are changing by the hour to now saying things are changing by the minute,” Zeller said.

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. She reports on insurance, the cost of health care, local hospitals, and more. Questions, tips, or ideas? Contact: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

(11) comments

Daniel Lopez

Sadly, the undeniable truth is respect/value for life has long been lost, even prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic. People have been distancing themselves from each other for a long time. At home, in a restaurant or any public place, look around you, each of the family members are on their mobile phones, oblivious of their surroundings. Maybe the Coronavirus Pandemic is only showing Americans how the rate of disintegration of our way of life will be affected under Socialism.

Allen T Coffey

We all need to remember, that today's COVID-19 cases are the result of infection that has happened up to two weeks ago. This is why social distancing and limiting business activity prior to symptomatic presentation of COVID-19 is vital in light of the lack of adequate testing regimens.

And finally, wash your hands!

Daniel Martin

I don't fear this virus but I do respect what it can do to innocent people. The first time I heard President Trump call it a "hoax by Democrats to make him look bad" my blood ran cold. Now Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested the loss of a few elderly folks should not jeopardize our American way of life.

No matter how bad this virus is it will run it's course but the lack of humanity shown by people in elected office is a malignant cell that endangers us all. Respect for life is beginning to sound like a faded bumper sticker.

Todd Valdes

Well said.

Sally Spencer

He never said the virus was a hoax. He was referring to the leftist fake Russian agenda. He was commenting on the fact the Democratic leadership was mad at him for the China travel ban. Thank goodness he did the ban. Quit watching the worst journalists in the world on CNN, MSNBC and the other hack news outlets. Do your own research. As a journalism graduate of Baylor Univeristy, I stay embarrassed by many of those who call themselves journalist.

Daniel Martin

Contrary to your research his comment was televised live. In your post you seem unsure of what he said and what he was talking about stating two separate reasons. The statement was heard by millions. He was wrong and you are wrong. Using bogus sources of information is a prime indicator for the type Journalist you are and you should sue Baylor. Roll tape!

janice wilson

I could not agree more. The truth is that we look to politicians for answers , but when a crisis like this occurs, none of them have an answer. They don't KNOW how long this will last and they are as scared as we are. They don't KNOW who will be infected, who will be hospitalized or die. Many of them, look at the staggering blow to the economy already and fear that we are reaching the tipping point of no return. That the economy will not rebound, but will have to be rebuilt slowly as we pull our country out of this dark, dark place. Trump, Patrick , Republicans, Democrats, right wing, left wing, this is all meaningless. I read posts from people trying to rationalize Trump's ridiculous statements (and whether you are Republican or Democrat, we must admit, he has said some really stupid things). Why bother? He just doesn't KNOW anything. He's like a nervous teenager that talks too much when put under pressure. It isn't what they say that we should be stewing over. Let us look at their actions taking a broad view. Where are these steps taking us?

janice wilson

I do not fear this infection. I fear the national consequences of the infection. Getting sick will be the easiest thing we endure in the coming weeks. Food, water and other essential items will be in short supply or non existent as people continue to hoard these items and the supply line is disrupted because truckers are afraid to cross into hot zones, succumb to the illness, or are confined by government orders. People are losing their jobs by the thousands every day. I expect there will be an increase in violence as people become more panicked. I sincerely pray that my vision of the near future is exaggerated and that people will laugh at my concerns when this is all over. Whatever the outcome, this country will not be the same . We are learning what it is like to "do without", to be unable to see a doctor, to be unable to gather in grief or celebration. The rate of disintegration of our way of life is frightening. But this infection along with the fear and isolation will pass. The infection will fade or a vaccine will be developed and the rate of infection will slow and finally stop in the months to come. We will be different coming out the other side, stronger, I think, more reflective and less obsessed with celebrity trends, You Tube, fashion and the latest "anything". Friends and family, rebuilding our communities, education for our children will mean more to us. I hope we are kinder to one another, gentler with each other and supportive. We are like slender branches, individually we bend and snap easily, but when we are united, our strength is exponentially increased. We become stronger than stone, impossible to break.

Roy McLaurin

[thumbup]

Glenn Wilson

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LEONARD SADDLER

And now we go into another County secret mode. You are going to let us know if we were in contact with those infected. Trust your county officials. Think I would rather trust the virus.

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