AUSTIN (KXAN) — At Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Austin Public Health interim medical director Dr. Mark Escott told the court at least one person in Travis County is being tested for possible novel coronavirus.
Dr. Escott wouldn’t share exactly how many patients are being tested or where they’re currently being quarantined. In low-risk cases, patients are asked to monitor their symptoms. In medium-to high-risk cases, patients can be quarantined at the hospital or at home. No tests have come back positive for the virus, he said.
“We are not going to provide the number or details of people under investigation because it could be many different things other than COVID-19,” he said. “The risk, as of today, is low.”
Officials at St. David’s Healthcare said the hospital is testing patients based on the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hospital staff have been going through drills and have stocked up on protective gear like masks, gowns and linens.
“St. David’s HealthCare is working closely with local, state and national health authorities to ensure our hospitals are prepared for potential issues related to the spread of COVID-19. This includes reinforcing appropriate infection prevention protocols, ensuring we have necessary supplies and equipment, and developing staff contingency plans.Ken Mitchell, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, St. David’s Healthcare
Dr. Escott said when APH has confirmed cases, they will share more details. The samples being tested have been sent to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention facility in Atlanta. Results are expected to be known within 24 hours, Dr. Escott said.
He also stressed that people shouldn’t let the outbreak control what they do.
“This is not ebola. This is not even SARS or MERS. It has serious implications, but not everyone is hospitalized. It’s critical to implement personal hygiene measures and understand the risks,” Dr. Escott said. “It is critical that we keep fear from taking over our operations.
In a report from the World Health Organization-China Joint Mission on the disease, Dr. Escott said the rate of transmission with those who come in contact with someone infected with the virus is 1-5%.
“Only 1-5% of those people, who had contact with people with confirmed cases, get sick,” he said. “That’s reassuring news that it’s not aerisolized, and that it requires close and likely prolonged contact in order for transmission to happen.”
He also said that 80% of the total cases are mild.
“The vast majority of the people with this aren’t hospitalized,” he said.
When asked about potentially cancelling South by Southwest because of the virus, Dr. Escott doesn’t think it should be cancelled unless “there is evidence of person-to-person spread within the community.”
“There is not strong evidence that cancelling mass gatherings breaks the train of transmission of disease,” he said.
An advisory board of medical experts will meet on Tuesday night to discuss plans for South by Southwest and to creat specific policies for making decisions in the future.
They will then share those findings, and hopefully the patient test results, on Wednesday morning.
Mayor Steve Adler said South by Southwest organizers are willing to cancel, but only if city or state health officials recommend it. As of Tuesday night, there were no plans to do that.
Mayor Adler dispeled rumors that South by Southwest will continue based solely on the economic driver it creates for the city.
“That can’t be the basis for the decision that we make. This decision has to be made on the public health and safety of this community.”
Austin Public Health said there are some legal obligations to consider as well.