This has been a very busy week in North Texas as residents and government agencies react to reports about coronavirus disease 19. It seems as if new discoveries and announcements are coming every hour, sometimes minute by minute, and there still are a lot of unknowns.
A response team with members of multiple city departments has been meeting daily (sometimes twice in the same day) to plan and direct the city’s response to the COVID-19 threat. Emergency management officials have been communicating with Denton County Health Department and Texas Department of Health Services daily in order to keep up with the latest developments and recommendations.
Denton County has a series of four ratings called the Public Health Outbreak Response Level. As of this morning, Denton County is at level Green, which means there is no evidence of local community-based transmission of COVID-19 and no restrictions have been put in place.
However, everyone involved in working this pandemic at the local level knows that Denton County will not be a magical pocket of immunity. COVID-19 will appear in Denton County, and in fact it probably already is here but not yet detected. Which is why public health officials and medical professionals say the emphasis is not on keeping the virus out, but rather on slowing the rate of infection. You might have seen this described as “flattening the curve.”
The idea behind this effort is to reduce the impact on hospitals and clinics, which already operate at or near capacity this time of year and could be overwhelmed of large numbers of COVID-19 patients seeking treatment.
The other focus right now is protecting as best possible those people in our community who are at a higher risk of infection, especially people age 60 or older and people with underlying health conditions. While most cases of COVID-19 infection present relatively mild symptoms, the majority of severe illnesses and deaths have been among people age 70 or older.
Slowing the spread of infection in Denton County means reducing the spread to those vulnerable members of our community, decreasing their chance of becoming ill and increasing their chance of recovery if they do get sick.
Personal preventative measures are the key, and these are steps you as an individual resident of Lewisville can take. Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. The CDC estimates this can be more than 90 percent effective in killing Coronavirus 19. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
Practice good respiratory etiquette, which is a fancy way to say that you should cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. This virus travels through droplets in the air and on surfaces. Coughing into your elbow or sneezing into a tissue can reduce the spread of those droplets.
Consider restricting physical contact such as handshakes. There are a lot of options being suggested out there, from elbows bumps to a simple wave or nod. Choose your favorite so you can still be friendly and sociable without risking a viral spread.
And perhaps most importantly, stay home if you are sick, especially if you have flu-like symptoms common to COVID-19 infection (fever, cough, trouble breathing). Call a medical professional and follow their guidance. Definitely stay away from older family members and friends if you are sick.
Now is the time for caution, not panic.
Over-reacting to COVID-19 is not helpful. Continue to live your lives, but exercise heightened caution using the steps described above (or any others the CDC or Denton County might later recommend). Hoarding important cleaning and protective supplies just increases the risk for your neighbors or medical professionals or might not be able to get supplies of their own.
Under-reacting to COVID-19 also is not helpful. Please take this seriously, if not for yourself then for your elderly relatives and neighbors. Choosing not to use personal preventative measures, and especially encouraging others to do the same, is irresponsible and increases the risk for everyone around you.
Get your information from trusted experts on infectious disease, starting with the CDC and Denton County Health Department. Now is no time to trust your health to the musings of social media and wild rumors.
So what is the city doing in response to COVID-19?
We have a detailed plan for disease outbreaks, based on the Denton County Public Health Outbreak Response Level. At the current Green level, we monitor the situation while providing employees and the public with information from Denton County and the CDC about precautionary measures.
Because this virus is a particular risk to older residents, we are closing the Senior Activity Center and cancelling senior programs for the next two weeks. The center will reopen on Monday, March 30, if the situation has improved.
At the Yellow level (which will happen, and probably soon), we will increase sanitization of high-traffic areas and frequently touched surfaces at public facilities. We have plans in place to quarantine any employee who is exposed to the virus. We will suspend all business-related travel outside Lewisville by employees and limit nonessential meetings and classes, encouraging the use of remove communication tools. We also will consider cancelling special events.
At higher levels (Orange and Red) the city would cancel all special events and public gatherings and consider closing some facilities. However, throughout our response, the city will maintain all functions necessary for the public health and safety. This includes police, fire, emergency medical, and water/sewer services.
We will get through this, and we’ll learn something from it. Right now, I again ask that everyone practice personal preventative measures and turn to reliable expert sources for information. Any changes in the city’s response status will be posted as quickly as possible to our website and social media.