COVID-19

CommUnityCare conducts drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Hancock Center.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus that was detected at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. The virus was first reported in the United States on Jan. 20, and by June had infected nearly 2 million people and led to more than 110,000 deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The World Health Organization announced COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic, meaning the disease had spread among multiple countries and continents, on March 11. Many cities, including Austin, took measures to slow the spread of the virus in March, such as cancelling major events like South by Southwest, closing nonessential businesses, issuing stay-at-home orders and urging people to wear face coverings in public.

With many businesses closed, the unemployment rate skyrocketed as millions of Americans lost their jobs. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took a phased approach to reopening businesses. In May, he began allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen at a fraction of their normal capacity. Business owners have been told to implement social distancing practices, like keeping people 6 feet apart. Health officials also say people should wear face coverings in public, though Abbott said people won’t face repercussions if they don’t.  

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease caused by a coronavirus. Coronaviruses have been known to cause the common cold, as well as more severe diseases like SARS and MERS. The virus that causes COVID-19 is called “SARS-CoV-2.” It’s rare, but animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread from individual to individual, as was the case with this new coronavirus, though the exact source of the virus is still unknown, according to the CDC. 

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. Studies have shown that even people who are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show symptoms, can spread the disease. Illnesses have ranged from being mild to severe. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, body aches and fatigue.

The CDC says people can take preventative measures like washing hands frequently, staying at least 6 feet apart from people outside your home, covering your mouth and nose in public and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. A vaccine or drug is not yet available. 

Mike Bowen's been a very busy man.

He's executive vice president of Texas-based Prestige Ameritech, one of the few manufacturers of respirators and surgical face masks still making them in the United States.

"I've got requests for maybe a billion and a half masks, if you add it up," he says. That's right — 1.5 billion.

Since the coronavirus started spreading in January, Bowen says he's gotten at least 100 calls and emails a day.

"Normally, I don't get any," he says.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The state's first coronavirus case identified outside of a Texas quarantine site is a man in his 70s who lives in the Houston area, Fort Bend County health officials said Wednesday.

The man recently traveled abroad, county officials said. He has been hospitalized and is in stable condition.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim director of Austin Public Health, gives an update on what public health officials are doing to protect the community from the new coronavirus.
ATXN screenshot

There is no evidence canceling South by Southwest will make the city safer from the spread of the new coronavirus, Austin public health officials said Wednesday, adding that they are reevaluating the situation on a daily basis.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Health officials are testing "one or more" individuals for COVID-19 in the Austin-Travis County area, Austin Public Health's interim health director said.  

 A crowd of people walks down Rainey Street during South by Southwest last year.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

One of Austin’s biggest months for visitors has begun, just as concerns grow around the new coronavirus COVID-19. While most events are proceeding as planned, the scenario in which a large event would be shut down over the virus is a little murky.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County and the City of Austin say they’re monitoring the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and collaborating daily with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials.

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