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Counties working together to boost hospital capacity if COVID-19 spread worsens

Harris County's emergency management coordinator said his office is working with federal partners for contingency plans.

HOUSTON — One top emergency official says 25 counties in the region are working together to make sure there’s enough hospital space if the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

Mark Sloan, emergency management coordinator for Harris County, said his office is talking with federal partners about building extra hospital capacity if COVID-19 community spread worsens.

“Will we have enough beds?" said Sloan. "We hope so, but we don’t know that yet. All of the action that we’re taking now is to help reduce the burden on the hospital network and systems.”

During a virtual press conference Friday morning, Sloan said the county’s labs can process about 250 test kits per site per day. He says they’ll keep pushing to increase capacity on testing.

Later in the morning, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said one firefighter has tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have a new invisible threat, and this virus is no joke,” said Peña.

He said 54 more were exposed and are in quarantine. Fourteen of those firefighters have been tested so far, with none of them testing positive.

“This is a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment, so it’s very competitive,” said Peña. “We’re competing not only with other health care workers, but the medical community.”

The Houston Fire Department was also facing hand sanitizer shortages. 

After the department sought the help of Houston chemical re-packager PCCA, that company donated enough hand sanitizer for 100 fire stations on Friday.

Peña also requested anyone calling 911 let the dispatcher know if anyone in their home has COVID-19 symptoms.

“I want to assure the public that you are not gonna receive a slower response because of the communication that you may give us,” the chief said.

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, headaches and stomach issues.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or 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.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • 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.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

Get complete coverage of the coronavirus by texting 'FACTS' to 713-526-1111.