Dr. John McNeill

Dr. John McNeill answers questions about local concerns related to COVID-19.

There’s lots we don’t know about COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus that was first detected last year.

Dr. John McNeill, the health authority for Victoria, participated in a Facebook Live interview Tuesday with the Victoria Advocate to answer questions about the new disease, including questions from viewers and readers. McNeill was joined by David Gonzales, the director of the Victoria County Public Health Department, Delilah Perez, the department’s assistant director, and Brittany Burgess, epidemiologist for the department.

Below is a summary of the conversation, which you can watch in full here:

Q:What’s the situation in Victoria County and in Texas?

A: There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Victoria County. There are 13 confirmed cases of the disease in Texas as of Tuesday morning.

Currently, all confirmed cases in Texas are travel-related cases, meaning that someone came from an area known to have the disease and brought it back to Texas. There are no confirmed cases of community spread yet in the state. Community spread means that a person who got the disease from an outbreak area passed it to someone else in their community.

“This is a problem. It’s a problem worldwide. But it’s not a problem in our area. And we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Although it is expected that the virus will continue to spread in the U.S. and likely in Texas, it’s unknown whether the virus will come to Victoria and how many cases we might have here.

“What we’re worried about, and what the big thing that the whole world is worried about actually, is community spread. We don’t have community spread in Texas.”

If there were to be cases of community spread locally, that would be the point when he would expect events to be canceled and more serious steps to be taken.

Most people could continue about their daily lives, but should be extra vigilant about keeping themselves and their communities healthy. Wash your hands vigorously, stay home from work or school if you are sick, and avoid touching your face.

“Be more vigilant if you are elderly, or you do have other chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, anything that could weaken your immune system. These are patients that need to be more vigilant.”

Q: What should I do if I feel sick and am worried I might have COVID-19?

A: First, take a look at your symptoms. The three major symptoms of the disease are fever, cough and shortness of breath, which can appear 2-14 days after exposure. The CDC says that if you’re experiencing these symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or who have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19, you should contact your doctor.

If you don’t have a doctor, contact the Victoria County Public Health Department at 361-578-6281.

From there, your doctor or the health department will discuss your symptoms and ask you questions to determine any possible exposure you might have had to the virus.

“If you get a cough, if you get high fever, if you get all the symptoms that are associated with coronavirus, you probably don’t have it, but you could and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Q: Should I go to the emergency room if I think I have COVID-19?

A: Not unless you’re experiencing an actual medical emergency.

“We don’t recommend that people go to the emergency department unless they truly have an emergency. If you’re short of breath, if you can’t breathe, if you feel really terrible, like you’re very sick, then you belong in the emergency department...But what we don’t want is everybody when they cough, thinking that they have coronavirus.”

Q: How do you get tested for COVID-19?

A: Your physician, the health department and Texas Department of State Health Services will review your symptoms and possible exposure to help determine whether a test for COVID-19 is needed.

“If we think that, in other words, if they’ve had an exposure or they have a high suspicion of the disease, we will do the isolates, we’ll send it off and we’ll get a diagnosis if it’s there.”

Because the disease is so new, you can’t be tested for it in the same way you would be for the flu. Right now, samples would be taken from a patient and shipped off to a lab that could process them. Results from those tests should be available in 48 to 72 hours.

Q: What happens if someone in Victoria is confirmed to have COVID-19?

A: A patient confirmed to have COVID-19 will get supportive care as needed. If they need to be hospitalized they’ll be put in a hospital with appropriate precautions taken to prevent spread of the virus. Those with milder cases might not require hospitalization.

Meanwhile, Burgess, epidemiologist, will launch investigations to determine who the infected patient has come into close contact with and where they traveled recently, to try to determine where the point of infection was.

Q: Will there be quarantines?

A: “We don’t have handcuffs at the health department, I’m not going to come get you and throw you in the big quarantine room. But we are going to encourage and make sure that you are isolated so you can’t spread this.”

Q: Is there anything that can cure COVID-19?

A: No. There are no licensed vaccines or therapeutic agents designated for the disease, although researchers are working to develop them.

Q: Do I need to get a face mask?

A: No, right now regular residents of Victoria don’t need a face mask. “We don’t recommend widespread use of masks.”

Q: Should I travel during spring break? What about attending public events?

A: Right now, state and federal health officials have not recommended that public events be canceled in Texas. If you do go to large events, follow the basic precautions.

“If you go, wash your hands...keep yourself clean. Stay away from sick people, if you can, and if you’re sick, don’t go.”

Traveling is a personal decision. Follow travel advisories from the CDC. The agency discourages Americans from going on cruises at this time.

“I don’t want people to fear that, if I go to Houston I’m gonna bring this back to Victoria. It’s not there yet.”Q: Should nursing homes restrict visitors? What about hospitals?

A: If you’re sick with any type of illness, you shouldn’t visit a nursing home. But, if there are cases of community spread locally, health officials would likely recommend visits to nursing homes, and possibly hospitals, be limited.

Q: Should I be worried?

A: “We’re trying to educate people. We don’t want people to panic. And we don’t want people to worry about this.”

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 and health care for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions, tips, or ideas? Please get in touch: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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