Harrison County reported its first positive case of COVID-19 on Thursday, and issued a Declaration of Local Disaster and Public Health Emergency, as a result.
“I was notified about 10 a.m. by the Texas Department of State Health Services that there was a positive test for the COVID-19 Coronavirus in our county,” Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said in an e-mailed statement.
Ricky Paul, Harrison County health authority and medical director for Marshall-Harrison County Health District, said because it is a small vicinity, they do not want to disclose particulars about the patient, including age or city of residence, out of fear of revealing the identity and violating HIPAA laws.
The immediate risk of transmission remains low, however, and health care officials are also staying in contact with the positively tested individual.
“Health care providers and epidemiologists will remain in contact with this confirmed individual, as well as with anyone that interacted with this individual if they believe they may be at risk of infection,” Judge Sims informed.
During this time, the judge said he’d like all to abide by the voluntary shelter-in-place order that was issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We already have a voluntary shelter-in-place order by the governor and I’d like to reinforce that from the county,” said Sims.
Jennifer Hancock, executive director for Marshall-Harrison County Health District, echoed his sentiments.
“One message we are trying to get out there is that it is up to our community to stop the spread of this,” said Hancock. “Right now, Harrison County is at a low risk, but we need residents to follow the government’s recommendations, right now.”
“We just want to reiterate that if you do not have reason to be out that you need to be home,” she stressed.
She said the recommendation to limit social gatherings to 10 does not mean to go and hangout with the neighbors, who may also have a few residents living in the household.
“When it says limit social gatherings to 10, if you don’t have to be out, then you need to be with the people that live with you,” said Hancock.
Dr. Paul said COVID-19 tests are available, but are not free.
“There’s a charge. There’s a process because we have limited tests available,” the doctor said.
Paul said the process includes the assessment of a questionnaire to determine if one is qualified to be tested.
“If they have a primary doctor and they have symptoms then they should call their primary doctor and discuss those (symptoms),” Dr. Paul advised.
The primary doctor could then call and arrange testing, if qualified.
Paul said those with possible systems could also call Christus-Good Shepherd’s COVID hotline at 1-800-458-4559.
“When the person calls that number they’ll be asked a lot of questions about symptoms, travel, exposure,” said Paul. “Then it will be determined if they qualify for testing; and, if they do, they will instruct them on where and when to get testing done, and also instruct them on self isolation and things to help decrease the spread of this virus.”
The declaration the county issued in the wake of the positive test notes that COVID-19 poses the threat of widespread illness and has been declared a world, national and state health emergency. The Texas Government Code Chapter 418 gives the county judge the power to declare a local disaster within the county if the threat of disaster is imminent; and the magnitude of the potential damage and the rapidity with which the continued spread of COVID-19 could escalate to constitute an imminent threat of disaster in Harrison County,” the declaration reads.
“As Harrison County Judge, I have concerns regarding inappropriate accommodations for an influx of local COVID-19 patients, personal protective equipment shortages for emergency response personnel and the potential for the escalation spread of the disease in pandemic form,” Sims said. “The declaration of such a disaster authorizes the imposition of controls on activities which tend to increase the likelihood of injury to the public.”
The local state of disaster and public health emergency expires seven days after its issuance, unless the commissioners court votes consents to renew it.
Judge Sims said all residents must do their part to stop the spread of the virus. He urges all to not panic.
“There is no need for alarm. Grocery stores, banks, etcetera will continue to work as normal,” he said. “Please stay at home, practice social-distancing and use excellent personal hygiene habits. This is a voluntary self-quarantine.”
Sims said residents are free to leave home for essentials but must take this seriously to achieve best results.
County officials remind residents to continue practice the following healthy, sanitary habits to help mitigate the virus:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue inthe trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Also, if one is experiencing fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, been exposed to a sick traveler or been exposed to a person with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, they are urged to contact their health provider immediately.