Two Victoria events were canceled Monday as concerns grow about the spread of the new coronavirus.
No confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have been reported in Victoria County.
Victoria’s school district decided that employees who were scheduled to participate in a Tuesday symposium about homelessness should withdraw from the public event out of an abundance of caution, Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said.
“That was a decision that we addressed at cabinet today and we felt like that was one of those convenings where it’s going to be a large group of people, potentially in a very small space, and when we looked at the safety of our employees, we decided not to participate in the symposium,” Shepherd said.
UHV, the host of the symposium, canceled the event Monday because multiple speakers, including the VISD employees, could not participate. It will be rescheduled.
In another event, a poet and essayist scheduled to speak at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday morning as part of the American Book Review’s reading series withdrew from the event because of concerns about traveling while the disease spreads, UHV spokeswoman Lauren Emerson said.
As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. continues to rise, cities, schools and other groups throughout the country have begun to cancel large public events where people would be in close contact with each other, particularly in areas where the disease is more widespread. Nationwide, there have been more than 420 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday evening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is almost certain to increase as more facilities are able to run tests for the disease.
There were 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas as of 10 a.m. Monday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That does not include individuals who were infected while abroad and who are under federal quarantine in San Antonio.
If a case were to be confirmed in Victoria County, the confirmation would trigger an investigation from the Victoria County Public Health Department. Brittany Burgess, epidemiologist for the county, explained the process at a commissioners court meeting Monday to update the public. Any individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19 would likely be treated at a local health care facility and isolated in a room there with airborne isolation, she said. Meanwhile, Burgess would launch two simultaneous investigations to identify anybody the infected person had been in contact with and where that person had traveled and possibly become infected.
If someone with COVID-19 had visited a public space, the county’s health department would advise on how best to clean the area, but Burgess noted that the disease primarily spreads from person-to-person only when individuals are within 6 feet of each other.
“You’re not going to walk into H-E-B at the same time (as an infected) person is and, never have come across them, and get this,” Burgess said. “We have no evidence to suggest that it is that contagious.”
Although scientists are scrambling to answer many questions about the virus, some basics have been determined. The primary method of transmission appears to be via drops of fluid from the mouth or nose of an infected person, according to the World Health Organization. A healthy person could then be infected if they came into contact with these droplets and touched their eyes, nose or mouth. Existing research suggests that the virus is mainly transmitted through contact with droplets, rather than through the air, according to WHO.
The virus is not as contagious as, for example, a disease like measles is, Burgess said. Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 9 out of 10 people around that person will become infected if they are not vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Burgess and David Gonzales, the director of county’s health department, urged residents to continue to follow the basic precautions that health experts have pointed to as the best defenses against spread of the virus, like washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and staying home if you’re sick.
“I think the public needs to understand that they are their own best prevention method,” Burgess said. “It’s actions that we are going to take as a community that are going to help us prevent an all out transmission problem.”