While caution is still advised no matter the threat level, we also need to be careful about what type of information we’re taking in and spreading along with the source of said information. Even though many of those we see sharing information have good intentions, it often serves as a reminder of the hazards of mindlessly regurgitating what you see around the web and the importance of keeping our heads on straight.
“Take everything, read through it and understand it before spreading the rumor or word around,” said Dr. Sarfaz Aly with Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. “People don’t know the risk they put other people at when they share information that is not true or accurate.”
So first, let’s vet the virus itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some coronaviruses cause illness in people while others only infect animals. In rare occurrences, animal coronaviruses that infect animals have emerged to infect people and can spread between people. This is what the CDC believes occurred for the new coronavirus strain that causes the disease named COVID-19.
First discovered in China, the disease has been primarily spreading through person-to-person contact according to the CDC. Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
Some of my loved ones have also been worried about its spreading through anything associated with China, but there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures, because the virus does not survive long on those surfaces. Currently, the CDC says there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.
Further, Aly – an infectious diseases doctor with Houston Methodist Sugar Land – said that there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Fort Bend County, and no recent incoming hospital patients exhibiting symptoms that could signal red flags for the disease. As such, he cautioned against spreading unsourced information found on the internet that can cause more of a panic – which he said defeats the very purpose of sharing information and makes catching the real thing more difficult.
“It creates a fear in everyone where they think, ‘I need to go do something,’ when it’s not a necessity at this point,” he said.
There have also been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Greater Houston area, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, though one professor at Rice University is in the process of being tested after returning from an overseas traveling trip.
No cases have been found in Fort Bend, according to Ali, while just one confirmed case has been found in Texas per the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering map. Their interactive map shows confirmed coronavirus cases as well as how many people have tested positive, died, recovered and how many existing cases remain.
For dedicated information on COVID-19, the CDC has a page on its website at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html. The World Health Organization also has a specific page for more information on its website at who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.
However, just because we currently face “only” a low threat, we can all still do our part to take preventative measures. Washing your hands frequently, maintaining distance with those who are sick, avoiding unnecessarily touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing are just a few measures residents can take. Aly added that residents can call the Fort Bend County Health Department if they begin to experience some of the above symptoms, or visit their local hospital if symptoms become severe.
However, he assured the public that there is very little threat to the Fort Bend community at this time.
“The flu is a bigger concern for us right now rather than the coronavirus,” he said. “…The vast majority of those times it’s not going to be this virus, it’s going to be something else.”
But for those still a little bit wary of the virus and all the information out there, our parent company, McElvy Media, has also created a website dedicated to providing the Greater Houston community with up-to-date information about the virus, its outbreak and the impact it could have on the community. On the website you will find daily briefings as well as links to news reports and health organizations.
For more information, check out the site at houstoncoronavirus.com. And let’s stay away from sharing those vague internet rumors.