Local authorities continue to monitor COVID-19 threat

Jay Butler, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases at the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks to the media in regards to the Novel Coronavirus, while standing in front of a map marked with areas having reported cases, inside the Emergency Operations Center Feb. 13, in Atlanta. Associated Press.

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

While COVID-19, better known as the novel coronavirus, has thus far stayed away from McLennan County, authorities are preparing to combat cases in the local area.

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District announced the formation of the McLennan County Leadership Response Team Wednesday to plan a response to the global outbreak. While there were no confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases in the county as of Thursday, the announcement said the team is “actively monitoring patients for risk factors and working to ensure our local health care system is prepared to respond to the situation as it unfolds.”

Kelly Craine, public information officer at the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, said the risk to McLennan County residents is minimal, but everyone should stay vigilant regardless.

“We know that in McLennan County we are not seeing what they call community spread, that means person-to-person spread where the people that are spreading it or getting sick have not been in a travel situation,” Craine said. “Right now the risk is very low. It has the potential to grow, but at this moment it’s low.”

The Leadership Response Team is composed of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, Ascension Providence, Baylor Scott & White and the Family Health Center. Craine said the team is scheduled to meet weekly, but through its member organizations, it has the flexibility to act quickly as the COVID-19 situation continues to develop.

“On an agency level or institutional level all of our teams are meeting daily,” Craine said. “We meet daily, we know the hospitals are doing their own meetings and planning meetings for their own entity on a daily basis, so we have the option of course of ramping this up.”

Baylor University assembled its COVID-19 Task Force in late January and tasked it with monitoring the situation and advising university leadership on how to respond. In a Presidential Perspective email Thursday, Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone said the task force continues to monitor the “rapidly evolving” situation.

“[O]ur COVID-19 Task Force continues to actively monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health agencies to ensure the continued health and safety of our community,” Livingstone said. “Let me reiterate that there are NO cases of coronavirus at Baylor, in Waco or Central Texas.”

Baylor temporarily suspended university-sponsored travel to China Jan. 29, to South Korea Feb. 26 and to Italy as of Tuesday. Travel to these countries will remain suspended until further notice.

Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media and public relations at Baylor and member of the COVID-19 Task Force, said Baylor learned from working with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District when a suspected case surfaced in January. Baylor has plans in place to deal with “any disruption to university operations,” Fogleman said.

“The university has business continuity plans in place depending on the circumstance,” Fogleman said. “As long as students, faculty and staff heed the CDC’s preventative measures, such as washing your hands, covering your cough and staying home when you’re sick, we hopefully will not need to execute those plans.”

For anyone who suspects they may have contracted COVID-19, Craine said they should continue to follow guidelines to prevent the disease’s spread and consult with a physician.

“Make the phone call first and discuss that with your physician on what is the best treatment for you, and then we’ll go from there,” Craine said. “If they determine that you do need testing then that will be taken care of … We’re monitoring and taking care of the testing as far as it’s being coordinated with the health district and we’re not charging anything for this test.”