The new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation in the Houston area. We want you to be prepared. Here are answers to questions you may have about COVID-19.
Click here for local health department contact information.
How Is COVID-19 Spread?
The new coronavirus spreads primarily from person-to-person through:
- Close contact (within about six feet)
- Respiratory droplets (produced by coughing or sneezing)
Although the number of cases has increased around the world, it still pales in comparison to the number of flu cases.
What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an upper respiratory illness that causes the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
It can take as little as two days or as long as 14 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear.
Given that we're also currently experiencing flu season and high pollen counts, it's important to remember that there are other, more common causes for the upper respiratory symptoms mentioned above.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have COVID-19?
If you've possibly been exposed to the virus and are experiencing symptoms, we recommend that your first contact with a health care provider be through telemedicine. Be prepared to answer questions about your symptoms, recent travel history, and/or contact with potentially infected individuals.
If you're experiencing severe symptoms, we recommend going to your nearest emergency room. To the extent possible, please call ahead to inform the emergency room staff that you're concerned you may have COVID-19.
Serious symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Low blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate (above 100 bpm)
- Profound weakness
- High fever
Am I at Risk for Developing COVID-19?
For residents of the Greater Houston area, the risk of exposure to the virus is considered low at this time. However, your risk increases if you have:
- Traveled to China or another high-risk country recently*
- Come into close contact with a person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19
*Current high-risk countries include China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea — but we recommend regularly checking the Centers for Disease Control's COVID-19 risk assessment by country.
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Developing COVID-19?
There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself from infection with the virus.
COVID-19 Prevention Tips
- Stay home if you are sick
- Wash your hands with soap and water regularly
- Cover your cough and sneezes
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Avoid close contact with sick individuals
- Disinfect and clean commonly touched surfaces
- Avoid nonessential travel to at-risk countries
Should I Use a Face Mask to Protect Myself From COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) doesn't recommend that healthy individuals wear a face mask as a means of protecting themselves from COVID-19. Your healthcare provider will let you know if and when you may need to wear a face mask.
Will Taking Tamiflu Help Protect Me From COVID-19?
Tamiflu is a drug to treat the flu, and it will not protect you from getting the new coronavirus. Researchers internationally have been working to develop antivirals, but at present, there is no specific treatment or vaccine.
How Long Does COVID-19 Survive on Surfaces?
It's not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This means that it's essential to clean and disinfect any surface you think may be infected, as well as commonly touched surfaces.
Should I Cancel My Travel?
If you have upcoming travel plans, we suggest regularly checking the CDC's COVID-19 risk assessment by country and following their recommendations.
Is It Safe to Receive a Package From Areas With Confirmed Cases of COVID-19?
Yes, it's safe to receive packages from at-risk countries. The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is extremely low. The risk of catching the virus from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also extremely low.
How Severe Is COVID-19?
While the complete clinical picture of this virus is still unclear, symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe.
Similar to infection with other respiratory viruses, elderly individuals and individuals with existing medical conditions, including pulmonary disease, may be at higher risk of developing a more serious illness.
How Is COVID-19 Diagnosed?
If you've possibly been exposed to the virus and are experiencing symptoms, your doctor will work with the city health department and the CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.
To test for COVID-19, your doctor will likely collect a saliva sample, as well as nasal and throat swabs.
How Is COVID-19 Treated?
There is no specific antiviral medication for COVID-19, and antibiotics are never effective against viral infection. However, infected individuals can relieve symptoms, via
- Pain relievers and fever reducers
- Cough medications
It's recommended that you stay isolated at home while sick and ask family members or friends to pick up any over-the-counter medications you may need.
More severe cases of COVID-19 may need to be treated in the hospital. If you're experiencing severe symptoms, we recommend going directly to an emergency room.
Key COVID-19 Resources:
- CDC's U.S. case tracker
- CDC's travel recommendations
- CDC - Testing in the U.S.
- Texas DSHS
- Phone: (713) 767-3000
- Harris County Public Health (HCPH)
- Phone: (713) 439-6000
- Houston Health Department
- Phone: (832) 393-5001