School districts and counties across North Texas are preparing in case the new coronavirus makes its way to the region.
There have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus illness COVID-19 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Officials have announced nine deaths from the illness in Washington state, and New York and New Hampshire each announced a new diagnosed case. The virus is believed to have spread undetected in Washington state for many weeks.
The new coronavirus has been spreading across the globe for the last two months. The first case was announced in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Jan. 20. The U.S. government has confirmed 87 cases of coronavirus as of the morning of March 2.
North Texas health officials are advising people to take personal preventive measures against the coronavirus such as:
- Avoid contact with those who are sick
- Stay home if you are sick
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
- Thoroughly wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water and soap. Alternatively, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Disinfect surfaces that could be contaminated with germs
- Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough, have difficulty breathing or have traveled to China or were in close contact with someone with coronavirus in the last 14 days. Call ahead of time to the doctor’s office to inform them about your travel history and symptoms.
Here’s what some local officials are planning in the event of an outbreak in our area:
Dallas County will be following a comprehensive All Hazards Preparedness Plan which includes a section on Pandemic Management, according to local NBC affiliate KXAS-TV.
Dallas County Health and Human Services is “taking the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. very seriously and is preparing for any level of response that may be needed.”
DCHHS is preparing by:
- Monitoring public health epidemiology and disease information
- Disseminating CDC information and public health alerts
- Monitoring patients who are under investigation and managing quarantine-related activities
- Developing capacity and implementing lab testing
- Informing the general public about public health strategies and other non-pharmaceutical interventions to help prevent the spread of coronavirus
- Preparing for dissemination and administration of the treatment or vaccine once it is made available
Philip Huang, said Dallas County will have the capacity to test for coronavirus in the next couple of days. Tests are currently being sent to the CDC for screening, but being able to test locally will make results quicker.
“We have said all along we anticipate there will be more cases coming so our actions now will help determine how things play out also,” he said.
Huang said his department is focused on containment as they monitor those traveling from affected regions. He said they are being asked to self-quarantine in situations where appropriate.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said in an interview with the Texas Tribune that the city is prepared for the coronavirus and emphasized that North Texans shouldn’t panic.
"There is no reason for people to change their daily activities and their daily life,” he said.
Johnson said the city has handled a public health crisis before, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
"We have some very well developed communication structures and working groups in place,” he said.
Johnson added the city is working closely with Dallas County to prepare first responders on how to deal with potential cases of COVID-19.
Tarrant County Public Health’s Emergency Preparedness staff is working with the CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services to stay updated on the evolving coronavirus situation, according to a statement. The emergency preparedness staff are also updating response plans and sending out health alerts to the medical community and other partners.
Tarrant County Public Health is also working alongside local hospitals to advise whether patients should be tested for coronavirus.
County judges from six of the largest member counties of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties said the overall risk of coronavirus to the general public in their counties “remains low,” according to a statement.
However, they said there is always a possibility of the virus spreading in the community, given the flu season.
The entire public health staff and Collin County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) have been activated in response to coronavirus, according to a press release. The epidemiology and public health emergency preparedness departments are on call 24/7.
Individuals returning from affected areas are also being actively monitored by healthcare staff. These individuals are being required to remain in home isolation for 14 days and give daily reports of their temperature to health officials. Those who develop symptoms are being tested for the flu and when appropriate, the coronavirus. The county was monitoring 49 individuals as of Feb. 28.
While school districts across North Texas prepare for the coronavirus, the Texas Education Agency said in a statement that it’s developing guidance for districts “in the unlikely event of an escalation of the virus.”
“TEA is committed to ensuring that clear communication and guidance is provided to the state’s 1,200 school districts, so that misinformation does not spread and misplaced fears can be properly addressed,” the press release said.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that parents should begin considering how they might deal with extended closures at schools and daycares.
Nancy Messonnier, director for The National Center For Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, she said according to The Dallas Morning News that the U.S. containment response has been “largely successful,” but it is likely a matter of time before COVID-19 spreads in the U.S.
She said school closures could be key in keeping sick people away from others and avoiding further spread of the virus.
“I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe,” Messonnier told The Morning News. “But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”
Dallas ISD has announced they are working closely with Dallas County Health and Human Services to provide campus nurses with guidelines and procedures if a student presents symptoms and a travel history that has put them in contact with someone known to have had coronavirus.
DISD also said they have the options of disinfecting schools and implementing school closures if they are advised to do so by the CDC or other health authorities. They said they will continue to monitor the virus and communicate with parents and staff.
Letters are being distributed at school and sent home with students. Students and their families are also directed to the website www.dallasisd.org/healthupdates, which has frequently asked questions and information resources.
In a mass email sent out last Wednesday, Superintendent Jeannie Stone said RISD Health Services is closely communicating with the Dallas County Health and Human Services in preparation for the coronavirus.
“As we have done in the past with other outbreaks of viruses, RISD is prepared to implement and follow protocols and guidelines as directed by health authorities if necessary,” Stone said in the email obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
She provided links to information on the virus:
- Dallas County Health and Human Services
- Texas Department of State Health Services
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
The email also mentioned other precautions taken by RISD to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“I also want to assure you that throughout the school year, and in the winter months especially, our RISD Health Services Department works closely with our school nurses to monitor illnesses, such as the flu,” Stone said. “We also work with our custodial teams to ensure our campuses receive more frequent and thorough cleanings during flu season, especially in high-traffic, high-touch areas.”
Irving ISD is emphasizing that the risk of coronavirus is low, encouraging families to remain calm and take preventive measures.
“We are in close contact with Dallas County Health and Human Services to monitor the situation,” Irving ISD said in a statement Friday. “At this time, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Dallas County, and our local and state health officials deem the risk of local transmission in our community and the general public to be very low at this time."
Irving ISD said it will continue to monitor the spread of coronavirus and provide updates at irvingisd.net/coronavirus.
On Monday, Fort Worth Superintendent Kent P. Scribner sent out a letter to parents, students and families saying public health officials believe the risk to the school community is “low at this time.”
He said Fort Worth ISD is working closely with Tarrant County Public Health, The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and CDC.
“While a new type of illness can be scary, we can protect our students, teachers, and the broader community by using simple everyday actions,” he said, urging community members to take basic precautions like washing their hands and staying home when sick.
Arlington ISD’s website says the district is communicating with Tarrant County Public Health and Texas Department of State Health Services. Arlington ISD added that it is following guidelines and best practices from those health officials and CDC.
The school district said it will continue to monitor the situation with county and state health officials. It will follow updated guidelines from DSHS and the CDC if anything changes.
The CDC recommends that people avoid traveling to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. They recommend older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions avoid travel to Japan and people exercise caution when traveling to Hong Kong. The CDC also warns against using facemasks and showing prejudice to people of Asian descent. The CDC says all people, including those who are of Asian descent, are unlikely to become sick if they haven’t been in contact with someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus.
Updates and information on the coronavirus are available on the CDC’s website.