COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)

What is COVID-19?

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. Early on, many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring. There is much to learn about this virus and how easily or sustainably it is spreading between people.

How do people become infected?

Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
  • Rarely, fecal contamination

More information about transmission of the novel coronavirus

Testing Information

Anyone experiencing fever, cough and difficulty breathing should call or visit their healthcare provider’s website first for screening.

Ascension, Baylor Scott and White and the Family Health Center have online screening forms for COVID-19 and will accept new patients and people without insurance. Testing must be ordered by a physician and is not performed at the Public Health District.

Baylor Scott & White

Ascension (Providence)

Family Health Center

Prevention Recommendations from the CDC

According to the CDC, there is currently no vaccine or treatment COVID-19 infection.

The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States. Individual risk is dependent on exposure.

Under current circumstances, certain people will have an increased risk of infection. For example:

  • People in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated though still relatively low risk of exposure.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure.

However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • 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.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with EPA-certified cleaning products.

There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19 infection. People infected with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms.

The initiative, called “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” lays out guidelines for a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. It calls for the implementation of measures to increase social distancing between people at all levels of society. This is a massive proactive, preventive response to COVID-19. It aims to slow the spread and blunt the impact of this disease on the United States.

Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities

Protect yourself and your community from getting and spreading respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. Everyone has a role to play in getting ready and staying healthy.

Click here for guidance on how to prepare and take action for COVID-19 at home, school, work, mass gathering events and more.

Information for Healthcare Providers

Clinicians should continue to work with their local and state health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories. In addition, COVID-19 diagnostic testing, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), is becoming available in clinical laboratories. This additional testing capacity will allow clinicians to consider COVID-19 testing for a wider group of symptomatic patients.

Clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested. Most patients with confirmed COVID-19 have developed fever and/or symptoms of acute respiratory illness (e.g., cough, difficulty breathing).

COVID-19 is still considered a reportable condition, so we are asking that any healthcare provider that plans to test still notify the Public Health District.

DSHS has compiled resources to assist hospitals and healthcare providers in the evaluation of patients who may be ill with COVID-19 or who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Click here for more information.

Priorities for testing may include:

  • Hospitalized patients who have signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 in order to inform decisions related to infection control.
  • Other symptomatic individuals such as, older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions and/or an immunocompromised state that may put them at higher risk for poor outcomes (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, receiving immunosuppressive medications, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease).
  • Any persons including healthcare personnel, who within 14 days of symptom onset had close contact with a suspect or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, or who have a history of travel from affected geographic areas (see below) within 14 days of their symptom onset.

There are epidemiologic factors that may also help guide decisions about COVID-19 testing. Documented COVID-19 infections in a jurisdiction and known community transmission may contribute to an epidemiologic risk assessment to inform testing decisions. Clinicians are strongly encouraged to test for other causes of respiratory illness (e.g., influenza).

Mildly ill patients should be encouraged to stay home and contact their healthcare provider by phone for guidance about clinical management. Patients who have severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek care immediately. Older patients and individuals who have underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their physician early in the course of even mild illness.

Updates on the criteria

Flowchart to Identify and Assess 2019 Novel Coronavirus

Health Care Providers should report any suspect cases to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District on the 24/7 Disease Reporting number: (254) 750-5411.

Guidelines for Collecting, Handling, and Testing Clinical Specimens from Patients Under Investigation (PUIs) for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Clinical specimens should be collected from PUIs for routine testing of respiratory pathogens at either clinical or public health labs.

At this time, diagnostic testing for COVID-19 can be conducted at DSHS, CDC, or other private labs.

For initial diagnostic testing for COVID-19, CDC recommends collecting and testing upper respiratory (nasopharyngeal AND oropharyngeal swabs), and lower respiratory (sputum, if possible) for those patients with productive coughs. Induction of sputum is not indicated. Specimens should be collected as soon as possible once a PUI is identified, regardless of the time of symptom onset.

Latest guidance on collecting, handling, and testing clinical specimens

Specific isolation guidelines for healthcare facilities

Information for Travelers

Currently, the CDC has issued a Level 3 Warning that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, and most of Europe, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Malaysia.

The US Department of State has also issued a Level 4 Travel Warning that travelers do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

CDC recommends that older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel to most global destinations.

CDC recommends travelers practice usual health precautions recommended for their destination.

CDC recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide.

More traveler information and updates

If you traveled to China in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:

  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Do not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

COVID-19 Public Health Information Line

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District has a dedicated phone line to answer your COVID-19 related questions or concerns. This phone line is for general questions only and not diagnostic related. If you are feeling ill, please see a healthcare provider.

The number is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, please call 254-750-1890.

Please check our Facebook page for your answer, updates, and information before calling this number.

For additional resources about the novel coronavirus, visit the links below:

2019 Novel Coronavirus (DSHS)

2019 Novel Coronavirus (CDC)

2019 Novel Coronavirus (WHO)

FAQs for General Public