The city of Houston has reported its first two cases of coronavirus, a man and woman between 60 and 70 years old, who officials said were likely exposed while traveling in Egypt.
The two cases are connected to four other Houston-area residents who were in the same tour group that traveled to the Middle East in February and have likewise tested positive for the infection.
"There is no indication they may have contracted this on U.S. soil," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county's top administrator.
Harris County officials confirmed the first four cases of coronavirus in the nation's third most populous county on Thursday.
The man is self-quarantined at home with minor symptoms while the woman is listed in stable condition at an area hospital.
“The patient knew to monitor for symptoms and quickly sought medical care when he started feeling ill,” said Dr. David Persse with the city's health department. "His quick action and the response of the public health system signifies that the potential for public exposure in Houston is minimal.”
"All the cases in the Houston area have international travel in common and we've been actively monitoring these individuals since they were identified as being at-risk," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "I encourage Houstonians to limit international travel for the time being and heed the advice of public health officials about healthy hygiene habits. If you are feeling sick, stay at home. But do not be parlayed by fear."
Thursday's announcement came a day after Texas health officials announced that a 70-year-old man in Fort Bend County, just outside Houston, had received a "presumptive positive" test for the new virus on Wednesday. Officials said the man was in stable condition.
“We are working around the clock with all local, regional, and statewide health authorities to monitor the situation and update the public. All residents are encouraged to take every day preventative steps to avoid spreading respiratory illnesses by covering coughs, washing hands frequently, and staying home if you are sick,” stated Fort Bend County Judge KP George.
Houston officials said Thursday the Fort Bend County man was also on the same trip as the three individuals from Harris County.
Multiple people were on this trip and individuals who were in contact with the three confirmed cases from Harris County are being monitored for symptoms to determine if they need to be tested, Shah said.
The woman from Harris County who tested positive is an employee at Rice University in Houston.
Rice released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying in part "The affected employee was exposed to the coronavirus while on overseas travel in February to a country not on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's restricted travel list. The employee's contact with the Rice campus was limited and occurred Feb. 24-25. Rice public safety officers learned of the case Feb. 29 and took immediate action to ensure the safety and well-being of those involved and the broader Rice community, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff. The affected employee's presence on campus was limited to one building, which has been extensively and continuously sanitized along with the rest of the campus. Based on our investigation, the staff member had no direct contact with our undergraduate population and has not been in any residential colleges or classrooms since returning to Houston Feb. 20."
The woman's contact with the campus was limited to Feb. 24-25 and to one building, "which has been extensively and continuously sanitized along with the rest of the campus," Rice University said in a statement.
The employee, a research staff member, did not have any contact with undergraduate students and officials are not planning to suspend campus operations or classes, the university said.
The university said it had identified 17 other individuals who had direct contact with the employee and had asked them previously to self-quarantine. None of them have reported any symptoms.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday there are now six laboratories in the state able to test for the virus.
How to Avoid COVID-19 Infection:
The best way to prevent infection is to take precautions to avoid exposure to this virus, which are similar to the precautions you take to avoid the flu. CDC always recommends these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
- 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.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
*Information shared from the Office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott