While local officials agree there’s no way to know how many Covid-19 cases are present in Lamar County because rural areas have yet to receive enough supplies for mass testing, they disagree that the number of people asked to self-quarantine is a reflection of the disease’s spread in the community.
Paris Mayor Steve Clifford on Wednesday shared via Facebook a graph showing 175 residents have been asked by the Paris-Lamar County Health District to quarantine since March 8, noting the rate is “doubling every four days.” Although Clifford prefaced his post by saying the graph did not represent actual coronavirus cases, he asked people to “notice the obvious trend,” adding the “rate of new infections in Lamar County is very likely paralleling the rate of people being placed in quarantine by the health department.”
“If this is the case, then we are currently experiencing exponential spread of the virus in our community,” he wrote.
But health district director Gina Prestridge warned that statement was misleading for two reasons: first, there’s currently no way for the health district to test for Covid-19 and private providers, who can still test, have reported no new cases since the third was reported on March 27; and second, district staff are asking anyone who calls and reports coronavirus-like symptoms to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution to protect the community.
“My department’s working so hard to make sure we’re doing the best we can to help in a situation that’s literally like flying a plane blindfolded,” she said. “Just because someone is under self-monitoring does not mean that they’re Covid positive. This is just a step that the health department has taken to make sure that people not feeling well are staying home to prevent the spread of whatever might be going on.”
It’s still flu season, Prestridge said, and the flu and Covid-19 share similar symptoms. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Also to consider: The majority of tests conducted have returned negative results. As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, there have been 47,857 tests conducted in Texas with just 3,997 returning positive results, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. In Lamar County, the health district has completed 20 tests. Two were positive, Prestridge said. A third positive was reported by a private provider. There have been 58 deaths in Texas from the coronavirus, none of which have been in the Red River Valley.
While Prestridge would like to test people presenting with coronavirus-like symptoms, she can’t because the state health services lab in Tyler has run out of reagents needed to conduct the tests.
“All these labs are just inundated and resources are so slim, but they’re working diligently and they will be the first to know when things are open to test again. And I will be the first in line to be able to do that,” she said in a phone interview shortly after the mayor’s post.
Specimens are being accepted at private labs, she said, adding the number of locally available tests remains “minimal.” While tens of thousands of tests have come to Texas, the majority of those are going to hard-hit metropolitan areas where hundreds of cases have been reported. Prestridge previously said the health district is unaware of how many specimens local private providers have sent for testing, though they are required to report any confirmed cases to district officials.
That 175 people are quarantined is a positive thing, Prestridge said, because it shows the health district is making decisions aimed at preventing widespread community transmission.
“To be safe as we possibly can, if these people are calling me, and they have fever and they don’t feel well, we’re saying stay in your house. That is to protect our community,” she said.
Prestridge urges those with fever or cold or flu symptoms to stay home and call their primary care physician for advice. Those with severe, rapid progression of shortness of breath should alert an emergency room so they can prepare to isolate the patient.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages frequent hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizers, especially before touching your face.
To help prevent overwhelming local medical facilities, Clifford reminded residents they should not gather in groups larger than 10; should stay at least 6 feet away from others; and only leave home to visit essential businesses like grocery stores, and only to send one person from the household.
“Please do not congregate together in places like churches, auditoriums or other public or private areas,” he wrote. “Parents, keep your children at home. Do not allow them to congregate with their friends.
“For too many people, this pandemic hasn’t seemed real. It is very real, and its effect will very soon be felt in our community. Please take appropriate precautions and everyone please be safe.”