Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a statewide public health disaster as community spread of the new coronavirus has hit and the number of cases is expected to increase exponentially. He issued an executive order March 19 that closes bars, gyms, schools and restaurants. Takeout is still allowed.
The Texas Tribune has received hundreds of reader questions about COVID-19. We’re answering what we can below. Send us your questions here.
How many people in Texas have coronavirus?
Daily data on the number of cases in Texas is reported by the Department of State Health Services. On March 24, the agency said it changed its reporting system to track case counts directly from counties instead of relying on official case forms, which come in later and were causing the state’s official count to lag hundreds behind other tallies.
The largest numbers of cases have mostly been centered in the Houston area, in North Texas and in San Antonio. One case has been confirmed in a Texas prison. All five of the state’s most populous urban areas have cases.
As of March 25, Texas is reporting 995 coronavirus cases.
The Texas Department of State Health Services is tracking COVID-19 cases in Texas by county. The numbers are reported by local health officials and are current as of 8 p.m. the day before. They may not represent all cases of the disease given limited testing capacity.
As of March 25 at noon, there were at least 995 coronavirus cases in Texas. There were 12 reported deaths. At least 13,235 people have been tested.
Have any Texans died?
Yes. There have been at least 11 coronavirus-related deaths as of March 24.
Is coronavirus spreading person to person in Texas?
Yes. That has prompted Abbott to promise more testing capacity and urge Texans to practice social distancing, something health experts and local officials have also promoted. Community spread, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as the “occurrence of cases for which the source of infection is unknown,” has prompted school districts and colleges across the state to suspend classes, move to online courses or cancel the remainder of the school year. Community spread has also spurred local officials throughout the state to prohibit in-person dining and close bars and clubs.
How will the disruptions affect the state’s economy?
Experts say it's too soon to predict the full economic fallout of coronavirus' massive disruptions to regular life and commerce. But entire industries are facing dramatic revenue drops, and Texas business owners are already feeling the financial pain of event cancellations and social distancing. Experts also fear COVID-19 will hurt trade in the state.
Restaurant owners asked the state to waive or postpone February’s monthly sales taxes, but officials declined, citing the need for revenue to help hospitals and emergency services respond. To combat the economic devastation, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that small businesses can apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a long-term, low-interest loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But the commercial disruption of social distancing has raised more questions than answers for Texans whose jobs have been affected.
What’s the difference between stay-at-home orders and curfew?
Various jurisdictions have implemented their own responses to the new coronavirus, including shelter-in-place orders and curfews, after Abbott declined March 22 to order a statewide stay-at-home order.
Large counties across Texas have issued stay-at-home orders for their residents. The orders generally tell residents to leave their houses only for essential activities, such as going to the grocery store or seeing the doctor.
Instead of implementing a stay-at-home order, Hidalgo County has implemented a curfew, which also orders residents not to leave their homes except for essential services. However, unlike the orders by the larger Texas counties, the curfew applies only between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
What is Texas’ testing capacity?
Texas appears to be lagging behind other populous states in testing for COVID-19.
Public testing is available in San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Houston, and Abbott promised mass testing by March 20. He said he expects the state to start testing 10,000 people weekly and is expecting 15,000 test kits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
How do I get tested?
A doctor can determine whether the test is necessary using guidance from the CDC. The test includes a mouth and nose swab. That sample is then sent to the nearest public health lab for testing.
The state has strict criteria for lab testing, and only certain people qualify. Texans can be tested in public health labs, private clinics or hospitals. But meeting with a doctor while exhibiting some of COVID-19’s common symptoms, like fever, cough and shortness of breath, does not guarantee you’ll be tested at one of the 10 public health labs in Texas.
The state is prioritizing high-risk patients, hospital patients with COVID-19 symptoms, health care workers who’ve been in close contact with someone who’s tested positive for the disease, and patients with recent travel history in areas that have been affected by the disease.
How does coronavirus compare with the flu?
Coronavirus comes with seasonal flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Severe cases of the virus can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. It also can be deadly for a small percentage of the population, according to the World Health Organization.
Similar to respiratory illnesses like the flu, coronavirus spreads from person-to-person contact, such as coughing, sneezing or touching infected surfaces, according to the CDC. Both diseases are especially dangerous for people who are older than 65, but the flu is more dangerous for children and pregnant women, according to The New York Times.
However, early reports indicate the coronavirus appears to be more contagious and have a higher fatality rate than the flu. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine available to prevent or reduce cases of coronavirus.
How long does it take for symptoms to start showing?
The time between catching COVID-19 and showing symptoms — the incubation period — ranges from one to 14 days, most commonly five days, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO plans to update that estimate as more information is gathered.
What is the course of the virus? How long does it last?
It depends. Once someone is infected, he or she can face symptoms from days to weeks. Some patients show only mild symptoms, while other patients’ symptoms worsen to an infection of the lower respiratory tract. All patients should closely monitor their symptoms.
There are some risk factors for progression to more severe illness, including older age and underlying conditions like lung disease, cancer, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease, renal disease, liver disease, diabetes, a compromised immune system and pregnancy, according to the CDC.
What’s the fatality rate for coronavirus?
"Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said March 4. The seasonal flu has a mortality rate of about 0.1%.
According to a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the fatality rates for the elderly or people with other underlying health conditions can be much higher — as high as 14% for people over the age of 80.
It is important to note that it is very early and data is still being gathered, so the fatality rate for COVID-19 could change, according to PBS NewsHour.
Does the flu shot lessen the severity of coronavirus?
No. The flu shot builds up an immunity specifically to the flu, so it won’t lessen the severity of or protect from COVID-19.
But doctors are still urging people to get the flu shot in the hopes of freeing up crucial hospital beds.
How long does the virus live on surfaces?
Studies suggest it may last for a few hours or up to several days, depending on the type of surface and the temperature and humidity of the room, according to the World Health Organization. Tests by the U.S. government and scientists found it can last up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Experts advise cleaning frequently touched surfaces — like doorknobs and elevator buttons — with disinfectant and recommend that people wash their hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water, and avoiding touching their eyes, mouth or nose.
However, transmission of the virus from a contaminated surface to a person has not yet been recorded, according to the CDC.
What things can parents do to help protect our children?
The CDC recommends children take the same preventive measures as adults: washing hands, avoiding contact with those who are sick and staying up to date on vaccinations. They note there is no evidence children are more susceptible to the virus than adults, and in China, the majority of cases — and the majority of severe symptoms — occur in adults.
Who is most at risk?
There isn’t enough data yet to determine the risk for pregnant women.
“It’s possible that pregnant women could be at increased risk based on our previous experience with influenza,” said Sonja Rasmussen, a pediatrics and epidemiology professor with University of Florida Health. “But we don’t have any data to support that right now, based on the small amount of information we have from China. More data and more careful studies will be needed for us to know for sure.”
In time, researchers hope to gather information on risk for these women, the likelihood of sickness compared with women who aren't pregnant and whether the virus passes from mother to baby.
For now, Rasmussen advises pregnant women, like everyone else, to “avoid being exposed — stay away from sick people, wash hands frequently, avoid touching their face and disinfect contaminated surfaces. If you’re living in an area with widespread transmission, working from home might be the best option.”
What do social distancing, community spread and pandemic really mean?
Social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Staying at least 6 feet away, working from home and avoiding crowds will help stop or slow the spread of the virus and put less strain on health care resources, or “flatten the curve”.
Community spread is when someone becomes infected without having contact with another infected person or traveling to an area where the infection was documented.
According to the CDC, an epidemic is an outbreak of a disease beyond what the population in an area usually expects. A pandemic is when an epidemic spreads to multiple countries or continents. Last week, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.