What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

March 13, 2020
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

As we all learn more about the spread of human coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) across the country and around the world, we want to remind everyone to stay informed and remain calm.

Every day, Texas Children’s Hospital is committed to keeping our patients, families, visitors, staff and employees safe. As part of that decades-long commitment, Texas Children’s – in conjunction with federal, state and local health organizations, especially those in the Texas Medical Center – is monitoring the situation closely and is prepared to safely serve patients with respiratory disease including COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19, Texas Children’s preparation efforts, and how you and your loved ones can stay healthy and in the know about the latest COVID-19 developments.

If you, your child or any members of your household have traveled internationally and are experiencing symptoms, call you primary care provider for further guidance.

About COVID-19

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that infects animals and people. The 2019 novel coronavirus (the virus that causes the infectious disease known as COVID-19) is now known officially as SARS-CoV-2. This virus is closely related to the virus that caused SARS in 2002-2003, and these viruses originally come from bats. This new respiratory virus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It was not previously known to cause human illness until the recent outbreak. The virus caused an outbreak in the region, and was detected in other areas around the world, including here in Texas and across the United States. It is believed the virus was initially transmitted to humans from a wild animal. Human-to-human transmission is now the most common route of transmission.

What are the symptoms?

Like many other viral illnesses, its signs and symptoms include fever, fatigue, coughing, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. These symptoms begin anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure. 

How does it spread?

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a new form of coronavirus that causes this new infectious disease known as COVID-19, the severity of the illness in specific age groups, and the potential impact to our area, is still unclear. Since it is a respiratory illness, it is thought to spread through person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets exchanged when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The virus is also transmitted like other respiratory viruses, from touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching your face. This new human coronavirus is highly transmissible, and may be significantly more infectious than influenza viruses in an unvaccinated population. It can spread rapidly, so everyone must carefully monitor their own health to contain transmission.  

Keep up with the latest Texas Children's protocols, guidelines and information about COVID-19 by visiting texaschildrenscoronavirus.org.

What do I do if me or my child has symptoms?

If you or any member of your family have traveled within the United States to areas with known person-to-person transmission in the community (not travel-related) and are experiencing symptoms, call your primary care provider for guidance.

For milder symptoms, including fever and cough, it is recommended that you stay home and self-isolate. Similar to influenza, sufficient fluid intake, proper nutrition, O-T-C medications to relieve symptoms, rest and avoiding others is best. 

If you or your child’s symptoms are serious enough to cause concern, including shortness of breath, significant chest pain, and/or fever, you should go to the nearest emergency or urgent care center, depending on illness severity. If possible, call and alert the team prior to your arrival so you can be properly isolated to prevent the possible spread of the virus.

Follow the CDC closely for current COVID-19 updates.

Stay protected

Remember these six helpful tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from spreading illnesses now and throughout the year:

  1. Practice good hand hygiene: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including before eating, after you go to the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing. Use a hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) if soap and water are not available. Also avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with dirty hands.
  2. Practice good face hygiene: Wash your face in the morning, during the day and evening. Avoid touching your face and practice safe social distancing when talking or meeting with others who may be ill.
  3. Cover your cough and sneezes: Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your upper sleeve and immediately wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
  4. Disinfect surfaces and objects: Use a household cleaner to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects daily.
  5. Stay home if you are sick and avoid close contact with others who are sick.
  6. Practice healthy habits: Stay hydrated, get an adequate amount of rest and make healthy eating choices.

Texas Children’s preparations

Texas Children’s is taking proactive measures to help prevent the introduction or spread of COVID-19 at all of our locations around the greater Houston and Austin metro areas.

  • Screening protocols: We implemented a screening protocol in January for patients seen across all Texas Children’s facilities and continue to update those protocols based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Our current screening protocols are available online and updated as needed.
  • Special Isolation Unit: Texas Children’s Special Isolation Unit (SIU) located at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus is designed specifically for patients with highly contagious infectious diseases, such as Ebola, MERS and other special pathogens. This unit features a highly-trained team that is ready to care for any patient who presents with both a positive travel and symptom screen. The SIU is the only one of its kind in Texas and the southwest region, and is among the few in the United States designated specifically for pediatric patients under the age of 21. Through the building and implementation of this eight-bed unit in 2015, its completion helped elevate Texas Children’s overall preparedness for our entire organization. While our biocontainment unit is eight beds, we are prepared to expand the specialized care we offer to admit additional COVID-19 patients as needed, safely.
  • We remain vigilant: Texas Children’s has teams organized that are meeting on a regular basis to address the system-wide needs of this fluid situation. Those teams are reviewing our procedures and protocols daily, and we are closely following the CDC’s guidelines. We remain vigilant and are taking additional precautions regarding travel and contact exposure with our own physicians, staff and employees as well to help protect our community in any way we can.
  • Collaboration is key: Houston is home to the Texas Medical Center – the largest medical center in the world – and some of the brightest minds in medicine. We are working collaboratively and closely coordinating our efforts to ensure our community is as prepared as possible to respond to the situation.

Stay in the know

The spread of COVID-19 is continually changing. Follow the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO) and Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) for the most up-to-date information and guidelines.

For patients and families coming to a Texas Children’s care site, please review our COVID-19 webpage for updates, including screening protocols and visitation guidelines, and much more.

Post by:

James Versalovic, MD, PhD

Dr. Versalovic serves as Pathologist-In-Chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and Director of Texas Children’s Microbiome Center. He is the Milton J. Finegold Professor and Vice Chair of Pathology & Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine.  He also is Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics...

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