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Local officials update public on COVID-19 preparedness

Peter Zanoni
Posted at 9:51 AM, Mar 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-11 17:19:52-04

Corpus Christi - Nueces County Public Health District Director Annette Rodriguez said her office actively is monitoring five patients during today's news conference at city hall, but emphasized, along with other local leaders, that there still are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nueces County.

"The good news is -- I won't say it slowly, but I'll say it loudly -- is that we have no cases in Nueces County," said Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb. "And that's about as good news as you can get."

Wednesday's news conference let area officials update the public on the steps local government and health entities are taking to keep COVID-19 out of the Coastal Bend, including personnel shifts and procedural changes.

She added that local emergency services have updated the questions they ask before transporting a patient to area hospitals, including those with ILI -- influenza-like illness -- symptoms. She said they are asking potential patients about travel and who they've recently come into contact with.

She and Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said EMS and paramedics are also being provided additional protection gear to use while in contact with patients, including goggles and face masks.

The City of Corpus Christi has created a page on its website with current case numbers that McComb said is being updated daily, with links to the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"You might see, in the coming days or weeks or months that Nueces Co. feels it's in the best interest that this county declare a local disaster declaration," said Nueces Co. Judge Barbara Canales said. "This could happen. However, this does not mean that we are in a state of emergency. "

She said its purpose would be to allow activation of more resources at the state level.

"This is a dynamic and very fluid health-care scenario going on around the world," Canales said, saying the information on the city's website will update daily with global data for a more complete picture.

A hotline also has been established for more information: (361) 826-7200, with Zanoni saying that about 20 members of his staff have been redistributed to help with expected call volume, education and purchasing, among other things.

Education was the theme of today's event.

Rodriguez said the health district is updating local health organizations, nursing homes and day cares with the most current CDC guidelines.

"The other thing is that the most vulnerable population is the elderly," she said. "We've looked at the statistics from China. The elderly -- those over 60, those over 80, do not do well with coronavirus, so part of our job is to stay healthy."

Rodriguez stressed that the health department currently isn't capable of testing for COVID-19, but plans to have that in place the week of March 23, and will have the capacity to test 26 people a day, if warranted.

"We have been in partnership with the state health department, as well as CDC," she said. "We just want to make sure that the community stays in tune to the changes. It's a quickly evolving situation, and everybody really needs to pay attention to what's going on."

Rodriguez -- who Canales said has 21 years of experience and is familiar with previous public health crises such as Zika, West Nile, Ebola, SARS, H1N1 and the flu -- also said there is no vaccine or treatment for this specific strain of coronavirus, and mentioned the importance of what she called "non-pharmaceutical interventions": handwashing and social distancing.

She recommends people wash their hands at least three times as many times as they normally do, and maintain six feet of distance between the person next to you, because that is as far as she said coronavirus can travel when transmitted through a sneeze.

CCISD posted a message to its Facebook page, as well as calling parents, to inform them local health officials have told certain members of the community they have have come in contact with someone who was possibly exposed to COVID-19.

The news conference did not address the post.

"We wanted to let you know that we are aware that local health department officials have informed some residents individually that they may have come into contact in the community with someone who may have been exposed to the novel (sic) coronavirus. We want to reassure you that there are no confirmed cases of the virus in our area."

A CCISD spokesperson said, in part, with campuses closed for Spring Break the robocall was an effective way to get its message out, and that the district wanted to reassure parents and staff that the district is monitoring the situation, there are no local cases, and to practice healthy habits.

No local school closures are being announced in the area, Rodriguez said, despite schools, colleges and universities across the country announcing decisions to temporarily close or conduct classes online only.

"That's actually a local decision that's made together with the school district and the health department based on the situation at hand," she said. "So you have to see: How many cases do you have? What exactly are you looking at before you can make those decisions."

Wednesday's noon news conference at city hall gathered city and county leaders including Nueces Co. Judge Barbara Canales, McComb, Zanoni, Rodriguez and Corpus Christi-Nueces Co. Public Health District Clinical Director and alternate local health authority Dr. Kim Onufrak.