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Houston Health Department sets up coronavirus call center

Houstonians can call the center at 832-393-4220 to speak to department staff and obtain information about the disease or get their questions answered.

HOUSTON — The Houston Health Department will open a coronavirus call center on Monday for Houston residents needing more information about disease.

Houstonians can call the center at 832-393-4220 to speak to department staff and obtain information about the disease or get their questions answered.

The call center will open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will return voice messages left after hours the following day on a first call, first served basis.

Houston healthcare providers can continue to call 832-393-5080.

“While we are all bombarded with a huge amount of information about COVID-19, some people may find certain details confusing or even worrisome,” Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department, said. “Our aim is to make sure the public has the facts on how to best protect themselves and allay any fears.”  

The department reported two COVID-19 cases in Houston last week and launched public health investigations to identify potential contacts exposed to the virus.

Counties surrounding Houston have reported 10 cases.

“At this point, there’s not really a cause for concern because all of our cases are related to that single Egyptian river cruise,” said Dr. Persse. “So, we know who those folks are, and we know who their contacts are, and those folks are all either in isolation or quarantining themselves. And so, while that is an evolving situation, we think we’ve got pretty decent control over it.”

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Dr. Sheryl Malone-Thomas was one of the HHD staff members answering phones Monday.

She told KHOU the most common call she received were from people who said they’re being referred to Houston Health Department for testing.

“We are not providing testing in our health centers at this time,” said Dr. Malone-Thomas.

Instead, she and other staffers are referring callers to their doctor, urgent care clinic if they’re showing symptoms, or other health centers if they’re uninsured or underinsured.

Dr. Malone-Thomas said she’d also gotten questions about international travel and keeping nursing home residents safe.

“I’m always telling patients I’m glad they called,” said Dr. Malone-Thomas. “It’s really better if someone asks the question, right?”

HHD officials say the call center is open to people living within City of Houston limits. They plan to keep it open as long as it is needed.

While COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus, daily precautions recommended to prevent respiratory illnesses are the same:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when you can't wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, use the elbow of your sleeve.
  • Don’t use your hands to cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick and keep children home when they are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Get a flu shot. (Although the flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, it is flu season.)

People who recently returned to the United States from international travel need to monitor for fever, cough and difficulty breathing for at least 14 days and seek medical care right away if they develop symptoms.

Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, symptomatic people with a history of international travel must call ahead to tell the healthcare professionals about their recent travel and symptoms.

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

  • Respiratory droplets released into the air by 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.

Houstonians may visit HoustonEmergency.org for updated information about local risk, routine protective actions, frequently asked questions, communication resources, rumor control, emergency preparedness tips and more.

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