A patient who was treated at Yoakum Community Hospital on March 7 and again a few days later has tested positive for COVID-19, hospital officials said Friday morning.

The man was first treated in the hospital with a mild, flu-like illness, said Dr. Blake Goodman, the medical director of the hospital’s emergency department.

The patient returned “a couple days later” with shortness of breath, fever, cough, and was having significant difficulty breathing, Goodman said.

At that time, the emergency physician on call decided to transfer the patient to Austin for further care. The patient subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 and hospital officials were notified Friday morning, said Karen Barber, the CEO of the hospital.

Officials did not say what day the patient returned to the hospital for care the second time and referred questions to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Region 8, which acts as the local health department for counties like Lavaca County that do not have their own dedicated health department.

It is unclear what day the patient tested positive for COVID-19, or whether he is among the 39 positive cases that have already been identified by the state.

The man, a rural Lavaca County resident, is still hospitalized in Travis County, emergency management officials with Lavaca and DeWitt counties said Friday night.

The state health department is supporting both Lavaca and DeWitt counties to identify “any close contacts” of the patient while he was sick so they can be isolated, monitored for symptoms and quickly tested if needed, according to a news release from local officials.

The patient ate out twice in recent days. He visited Taqueria Vallarta in Yoakum at about 1 p.m. March 7; and Sunken Gardens restaurant in Shiner at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. To assist with the investigation, people who visited those restaurants at the same times as the patient are being asked to contact DSHS Region 8 Epidemiology by calling 210-949-2121.

The virus is believed to spread mainly between people who are in close contact within one another within about 6 feet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 but touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, according to the CDC.

The new disease is caused by a virus that was first identified late last year, and has rapidly spread to countries through the world. The World Health Organization has declared the spread a pandemic, and health officials around the country are on high alert as the virus continues to spread throughout the U.S.

All health care workers who had direct contact with the patient are being monitored with temperature checks several times per day, per guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Goodman said. Officials did not say how many workers were believed to have direct contact with the patient during his two visits to the hospital and referred questions to the state.

“We are currently awaiting further instruction from the local health department about continued monitoring,” they said in a news release.

“We’re still open for all emergency and hospital services, so if anybody is sick, we’re here to help them,” Goodman said in a conference call with reporters Friday morning. “However before anybody comes to the hospital just to be checked out, please consider the safety of our patients, our staff and the possibility of spreading anything that you may have.”

Effective Friday, the 23-bed hospital in Yoakum will begin screening all patients in the parking lot before they enter the emergency room, Goodman said. As part of each medical screening, patients will have their vital signs reviewed and be asked questions about their recent travel history and general history, and will undergo a physical exam. After being screened, patients will either be triaged into the emergency room or sent home.

“We realize this is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are receiving new information regularly,” he said.

Access to the hospital will be restricted, Barber said. Only “necessary people” will have access to the emergency room entrance, and access will only be through the emergency room doors or the doors of the hospital’s professional office building. Members of the public and staff members will be screened as they come in and leave either entrances.

Patients are limited to one visitor at a time. Public access to the hospital cafeteria is not allowed.

The symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, although many people who are infected are believed to experience no or very mild symptoms. For some, however, the disease requires hospitalization, and thus far COVID-19 has proven to be more deadly than the seasonal flu. There is no vaccine yet available. Because the disease is believed to spread primarily from close person-to-person contact, officials are urging all to practice good hygiene and not to interact with anyone who is sick.

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.

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