In a pandemic situation, we must focus on: (1) treating the sick, (2) preventing other people from getting sick as best we can, and (3) addressing non-health problems that may arise. Our health care system is here to test and treat the sick. All community members have a role to play in prevention. With no vaccine available and no natural immunity in the population, prevention of COVID-19 means slowing the spread of the infection through social distancing and adhering to sanitation procedures. We must rely on each other to put the public good over our own individual preferences to live our lives unchanged. A range of community groups and agencies are available to assist with social and economic challenges. The pace of change is rapid right now. Keep informed on what is happening. Know what to do if you are sick or have symptoms. Know what to do if you are not symptomatic. Have a household plan. Cooperate with recommendations and be willing to help others where you can.

PMPH faculty, students, and staff are working to provide our community with the most current and accurate information and recommendations on COVID-19. This page will be updated regularly to provide the most accurate information. Click here for a PDF of the information provided on this webpage. 

Follow @UTMB_PrevMed on Twitter for updates!


As of April 3, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of simple cloth face coverings or masks in public (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) to slow the spread of COVID-19. To make sure that you're wearing and handling your mask properly, please check out this "Wearing a Mask: Do's and Don't's" graphic created by PhD/MPH student, Corri Levine. 

COVID-19 Q&A

These are terms which are often incorrectly used. Understanding the difference will help to understand where we are in the course of disease spread. I will start with definitions* and examples followed by how these terms relate to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) situation.

Epidemic: The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.

  • Example: 100 Hepatitis A cases appear during the month of May in a town that has only had 1 case in the past year

Pandemic: An epidemic occurring over a very wide area (several countries or continents) and usually affecting a large proportion of the population. It is important to note that there are no clear requirements as to the number of regions affected in order to consider using the label “pandemic”

  • Example: H1N1 swine flu in 2009 affected populations across the globe, 214 countries had reported cases

Endemic: The constant presence of a disease or infectious agent within a given geographic area or population group; may also refer to the usual prevalence of a given disease within such area or group.

  • Example: Malaria is endemic in some tropical regions. The parasite is known to circulate there during a specific season and the number of cases remain steady during this season.

Some other often used terms:

Outbreak: Interchangeable with epidemic but usually refers to a specific geographic area.

Cluster: An aggregation of cases of a disease or other health-related condition, which are closely grouped in time and place. The number of cases may or may not exceed the expected number; frequently the expected number is not known.

  • Example: Food poisoning in a group of individuals who all attended the same gathering.

In December 2019 a cluster of pneumonia cases were reported to health authorities in Wuhan, China and reported to WHO on December 31, 2019. After investigation it was determined that many of these cases had a connection to a seafood and live animal market. The number of cases continued to increase across China, beyond what would be expected***, over the next month and therefore was considered an epidemic. Cases began to pop up across the globe in countries such as Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan, US, and others. On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared this a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Over the next month cases continued to appear around the globe, and it was evident that community spread was occurring (i.e. cases with no known link to another case). Due to sustained community spread in several areas around the globe the WHO officially declared this a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

 *All definitions were retrieved from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website CDC.gov

**Timeline of events found in press briefings on the World Health Organization’s website WHO.int

***Since is this a new disease, any number of cases above 0 would classify this as an epidemic

We should all be playing our part to prevent the rapid spread of cases and support efforts to reduce the number of sick patients needing high-level clinical care at the same time. You may have seen this approach called “flattening the curve.” Handwashing and social distancing are the key actions individuals and families can take to slow the spread.

If the virus spreads unchecked, health care systems will be unable to handle the number of seriously ill patients. These steps are about saving lives. It’s possible for you to have and spread the virus without experiencing symptoms. We should all adhere to basic sanitation and social distancing recommendations. Just assume you and everyone you interact with may have the virus. Protect yourself and others.

We are living in a quickly changing and disruptive situation that includes both health and economic hardships. We need to work together to respond to this pandemic and find a new normal. The spread of the pandemic and expert recommendations and governmental requirements are changing every day. Stay updated!

Do the following:

  • Continue to keep updated on what is happening in your community, workplace, school district, faith organization, etc. Newspapers, media websites, government websites, and social media can be sources of information. Don’t fall for hoaxes and misleading information.
  • Continue to practice personal and household hygiene through proper handwashing, not touching your face, cleaning surfaces, staying home if you are sick, etc. Information on proper sanitation is available on multiple websites.
  • Create and follow a household preparedness plan.
    • As possible, keep two-weeks of food, prescription medicine, over-the-counter medicines, and other essentials at hand.
    • Collect contact information (phone numbers, emails, etc.) for family, friends, and co-workers so you can communicate and check on each other. Actually check on each other to provide social support.
    • Make plans for disruptions to your daily schedule, such as school or childcare closures and requests for you to work remotely from home (as allowed and able).
    • Make sure you know where to go for testing and care if a member of your household becomes sick. Keep your plan updated as the health care situation evolves.
  • Practice social distancing and cooperate with closures in your community. Keep informed about closures.

Taking these steps is particularly important for people who are at high risk for complications from the virus and for those who interact with high-risk individuals. The high-risk group includes older adults, immunocompromised people, and people with chronic health conditions.

Remember that people who are not labeled high risk may still experience complications from the virus. Although at much lower risk of serious illness, younger and healthier people can experience serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

Put simply, social distancing means limiting personal contact with other people.

The public definition of social distancing has become stricter as this pandemic has progressed. The CDC defines social distancing as: "remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible." But, definitions of “congregant settings” and “mass gatherings” have remained vague.

You can practice social distancing through your own choices to limit travel, to cancel or not attend group gatherings, and to avoid public AND personal settings where groups of people may be interacting. The most recent federal government recommendation, from the President’s Task Force, is fewer than 10 people. One point to remember is that every individual in your interaction network is also interacting with people outside of your network. The more varied and more active the people in your network, the more likely the virus is to spread to you and others in your household.

Your community and community groups may promote or enforce social distancing measures through school closures and distance learning, encouraging or requiring some work be done remotely, restricting restaurant services to drive-through, carryout or delivery only, etc. All of these actions are intended to limit interpersonal contact and to slow the spread of the disease as possible.

Individuals and families will make their own decisions within the boundaries of what community, county, state, and federal authorities are requiring and enforcing. Work obligations and childcare and senior care options are especially limiting for some families. When making care arrangements, through formal or informal sources, you should select an option that screens children and parents for symptoms, practices enhanced sanitation procedures, and keeps children in consistent, small groups. Practice social distancing as strictly as possible for your family and household. Expect the same of your workplace, daycare, and other places where you and your family interact with people.

Social distancing is strongly recommended. Put simply, this means limiting the number of people you and your family members interact with each day. It is a voluntary measure and relies on individuals acting on behalf of the social good.

Some communities have already asked citizens to “shelter-in-place” to strengthen social distancing efforts. Enforcement of these requests has varied. Some other countries have already experienced enforced “lockdowns” to keep people from traveling around their communities.

More familiar may be the concepts of quarantine (separation of people believed to have been exposed, but not yet symptomatic) or isolation (separation of people known to be infected or contagious). The CDC is recommending a 14-day quarantine period for asymptomatic people known to have been exposed. People with COVID-19 have been shown to be infectious before they are symptomatic. However, testing is not currently available for asymptomatic people with no history of exposure.

Some people who have been exposed or infected may be asked to self-quarantine or self-isolate. The community will rely on these individuals to comply with the recommendation. Public health and other government authorities can order and enforce quarantine and isolation rules if necessary.

The key to being prepared is having a plan.  We are starting to see a number of public health measures taking effect, but we have not seen any actions to close or plans for closing critical infrastructure, such as the water supply (which is expected to remain safe), health care services, or grocery stores.  As you prepare, keep the following in mind:

  • This situation is constantly changing, and up-to-date information is critical. Stay informed about the current situation with information being provided by your local news outlets, public health authorities (including the Galveston County Health District and UTMB), and State and National authorities.
  • Continue social distancing and prevention strategies, including frequent handwashing and cleaning of household surfaces that you or your family come into contact with (e.g., doorknobs, counter tops, water faucets, etc.)
  • If you are sick, or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and follow the recommendations of your health care provider.  If possible, prepare ahead to have a designated sick room and separate bathroom (if possible) set up in your house to separate sick family members from well ones.  Avoid sharing food and drinks with sick family members.
  • If available, facemasks can be worn by sick members of your family to help prevent the spread of the disease. 
  • When stocking up your food and supplies, take an inventory of what you already have to prevent overbuying.  Create a meal plan for the next couple of weeks and use that plan to guide your shopping list.  Purchase what you need for that time. 
  • Purchase a variety of fresh, frozen, canned, and non-perishable foods, and plan to use perishable ones first to reduce waste.  Canned, non-perishable, and frozen foods are great choices for later in your plan.  Meats and many fruits and vegetables can also be frozen to be used later.
  • Keep paper goods and cleaning supplies on hand, but only buy enough for what you need until your next planned trip to the grocery store plus a little extra.  The same goes for bottled water.  Again, the water supply is safe, and isn’t expected to be impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Many larger grocery chains offer curbside pick-up.  Using these resources can further reduce your contact with others and may be an option for you to consider.
  • Many states are beginning to restrict gatherings in places like bars, restaurants, or other large gathering spots.  However, many restaurants in these areas are offering delivery services, either through their own delivery service or through a third-party food delivery service.  Keep these services in mind as an option for food as you continue social distancing. 


RESOURCES

There are no shortages of food supplies in the supply chain; however, it does take time to restock shelves. Only buy what your family needs.

Galveston County Food Bank is currently operating.

School Districts: All school districts in Galveston County are providing food pick-up for children. Please go to your school district's website or check with your school district's central office for pick-up locations and times.

The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may be stressful for people.  In addition, social isolation, while quarantining and social distancing, can result in poorer mental health. People with little or no face-to-face contact with co-workers, friends, and family may feel lonely, depressed and anxious. Reach out to older family members and neighbors periodically to check on their well-being.

This may present as: fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, and/or increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

 Things you can do to support yourself during this time include the following:

  • Stay connected with your social and family networks via email, social media, video conference, and telephone. Have the emails and phone numbers of close friends and family at your fingertips.
  • Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Take care of your physical health. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly (not at the gym), get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind and relax. Try to do some activities you enjoy.
  • Seek practical, credible information at specific times of the day. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing negative information repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Keep your daily routines as much as possible. If you’re working from home:
    • Maintain a regular routine with regular work hours, including keeping up with morning rituals. Dressing in work attire and taking regular breaks, including lunch time, may also be helpful.
    • Create a structured, dedicated work environment
    • Build in self-care and daily benchmarks of achievement
  • Call your healthcare provider if stress, loneliness, depression, or anxiety in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
  • You can also contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at (800) 985- 5990 that provides 24/7, 365-day-a- year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

Resources:

The closing of schools and daycare facilities have left parents and guardians without childcare. Here are some tips for families with children, while schools are closed: 
  • Set a new schedule. You can try to use school schedule as a guide for your child’s routine but be flexible since everyone’s schedule and routine has been disrupted.
  • Dedicate time for playing and physical activity. Indoor activities can include things like puzzles, board games, exercise, yoga, and dancing.
  • Stay connected with family and friends via social media, phone calls, etc. but try to take a break from discussing news stories and other things that may cause stress.
  • Be realistic and patient.