Houston officials confirmed the first two cases of coronavirus in the nation’s third-largest county Thursday, saying the two were on a trip to Egypt with multiple people, including a man from a nearby suburb who a day earlier became the first Texan to have a positive test result outside of persons repatriated from abroad.
The newest cases involve a man and a woman who are between 60 and 70 years old and remain hospitalized in stable condition, said Dr. Umair Shah, the top health official in Harris County, where Houston is located.
Officials said they believe the two were exposed to the virus while on a trip in late February to Egypt.
“There is no indication they may have contracted this on U.S. soil,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top administrator.
The announcement came a day after Texas health officials announced that a 70-year-old man in Fort Bend County, just outside Houston, had a received a “presumptive positive” test for new virus. Officials said the man was in stable condition.
Houston officials said Thursday the Fort Bend County man was also on the same trip as the two individuals from Harris County.
Multiple people were on this trip and individuals who were in contact with the two confirmed cases from Harris County are being monitored for symptoms to determine if they need to be tested, Shah said.
The woman from Harris County who tested positive is an employee at Rice University in Houston.
The woman’s contact with the campus was limited to Feb. 24-25 and to one building, “which has been extensively and continuously sanitized along with the rest of the campus,” Rice University said in a statement.
The employee, a research staff member, did not have any contact with undergraduate students and officials are not planning to suspend campus operations or classes, the university said.
The university said it had identified 17 other individuals who had direct contact with the employee and had asked them previously to self-quarantine. None of them have reported any symptoms.
“The best tools to fight the spread of this illness are facts, not fear,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Residents should know that we have been leaning forward to make sure our response to this illness continues to be proactive and coordinated with a wide array of local, state and federal officials. Each of our residents is a member of our public health team, and we are urging everyone to learn the facts about this virus and take simple steps to help contain the spread by visiting www.ReadyHarris.org.”
Harris County residents can help prevent the spread of this virus by taking the same preventive measures used to protect against colds and flu:
· Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
· Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
· Stay home when you are sick. Keeping a sick child at home prevents the spread of illness in the school and community and allows your child an opportunity to rest and recover.
· Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
· Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Goose Creek Superintendent Randal O’Brien released a statement detailing steps the district is taking to secure the health of its students.
“Our district nurses are remaining vigilant in ensuring that we provide a continuous standard of care for all our students. We also continue to encourage effective habits of washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and using hand sanitizer. These practices not only help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also help prevent the spread of other infections that can lead to student illnesses.
“We will continue to use medical grade cleaning supplies, following virus prevention protocol by wiping down desks, doorknobs and public areas daily in an effort to keep our facilities clean and eliminate viruses. Please be assured that we are in communication with the Center for Disease Control and local health officials, and we are taking all precautionary measures possible to prevent the spread of all communicable diseases.”
The Baytown Sun contributed to this report