The Perot Museum of Nature and Science brought together a panel of North Texas medical experts Sunday. KERA’s Syeda Hasan moderated the livestream discussion. It’s clear there are a few things these experts want you to know — beyond how to wash your hands. Watch the panel here.
1) Don’t panic - there’s plenty of toilet paper to go around.
With long lines at the grocery stores and empty shelves where hand sanitizer and toilet paper used to be, these officials agree this is no time to get flustered.
Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, said the grocery grab reminds him of how consumers overreacted and helped gin up a gas shortage after Hurricane Harvey.
"The word got out there was a shortage of gas when there really wasn't, but everyone went and got gas so it was a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “I think everyone just needs to strive to be calm."
Dr. John Carlo is the CEO of Prism Health North Texas and former board chair of the Dallas County Medical Association. Clutching a tennis ball in his hand to keep from nervously touching his face, Carlo recommended buying what’s needed and leaving the rest for others.
"I, for example, do not keep a lot of groceries at my house, and so I've bought more food just in case some food does not become available in the next few days," he said.
Governor Greg Abbott also announced Friday that some state trucking regulations will be suspended so grocers and retailers can restock their shelves.
“I want to remind Texans that stockpiling resources is neither necessary nor productive. The State of Texas is prepared and will continue to take action to support our communities," he said.
Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said North Texans should be thinking about things other than having enough groceries and toilet paper.
“What are you going to do if the schools close? What are you going to do about your child care?” he said. “What are you, as a business, planning in terms of leave policies, so that people who're sick can stay home."
2) Not everyone needs a coronavirus test.
Even if symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, it could be the flu. Love’s advice: Don’t go to the emergency room to get tested; the first step should be seeing a primary care doctor.
“We want to make sure we use the test kits appropriately, and we’re going to leave that to the discretion of the medical professionals that will be examining you,” he said.
Love said private labs, like LabCorp and Quest, will be expanding the number of local testing sites in the near future. Until then, he suggests using virtual screening tools that a number of health systems have posted to see whether symptoms are consistent with the virus.
“It helps guide and direct you, in many cases to give you peace of mind that you probably don’t even need a test,” he said.
3) Social distancing works, but only if everyone does it.
Back in 1918, millions died in the worst influenza pandemic in U.S. history. Dr. Carlo said with no vaccines and few treatments available, a number of cities decided to use “social distancing” -- keeping people hunkered down and stopping mass gatherings. Cities that implemented social distancing practices earlier, to a greater degree and longer had an impact on the overall mortality rate.
“So we know it works,” Carlo said. “But we also know the degree that’s required in order to get that done. It has to be done early, it has to be layered with multiple different methods and it has to stay the course.”
Carlo said what worries him now is the way coronavirus spreads compared to the flu. That means the community should continue practicing social distancing, even if the number of cases starts declining.
“We cannot get complacent,” he said.
Dr. Philip Huang also asked those in good health to continue social distancing, even if they think it won’t affect them. He said a healthy person could pass the virus onto someone in their lives who is older or has a weaker immune system, where it could be deadly.
“It does take all of us to make this slow down effective,” he said.
4) Warm weather might help. But be prepared if the virus comes back in the fall.
It’s not known yet whether seasonal changes will affect the spread of coronavirus. Dr. Carlo said some studies suggest viruses don’t survive as well in warmer, humid temperatures. But that research is limited.
“I don’t think there’s any science that would tell us that the seasonal change would impact the case rates,” he said.
He noted that summer vacation from school could lower rates because fewer people come into contact with each other. If warmer weather does affect coronavirus rates, Carlo said he’s worried about what that would mean once the weather cools down.
“I think there’s both good and bad with seasonal changes, but again the science doesn’t tell us what’s true and what’s not,” he said.
5) Yes, it’s safe to eat out. But you should be extra cautious.
What do you do when you’re practicing social distancing and suddenly get a craving for tacos? There’s no evidence to suggest coronavirus is transmitted through food, so no worries there.
“The bigger issue around restaurants is making sure you’re avoiding crowds and washing your hands,” Carlo said.
If folks want to continue supporting local businesses and eating out, Carlo said ordering takeout is an option. But for those who do want to dine in, he suggests taking precautions like staying at least six feet away from other patrons and, yes, washing your hands.