The message about COVID-19 infections was consistent: Wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.
Humble Mayor Merle Aaron hosted an hourlong COVID-19 Facebook Live Tele-Townhall June 16. Viewers submitted questions and Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, answered them.
“This is a squirrelly virus,” Shah said at the beginning. “I know we’re getting tired of the virus, but it’s not getting tired of us.”
We should not let our guard down, wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, and social distancing all the time, Shah said. There is a belief that businesses cannot operate while the coronavirus rages, but he emphasized it can be done. Humans must always keep health and safety in mind.
“Businesses must do everything they can to put good health protocols in place. They must remind their patrons to follow safe health practices,” he said. “If an employee does not feel good, send them home. A business can’t run if the employee is ill and the customers and other employees become infected.”
Aaron said he recently visited several local businesses and the managers demonstrated how they were disinfecting and following safe health practices.
A viewer asked about antibody testing. Shah explained that it is a screening for antibodies in your blood that fight an infection like COVID-19; however, he recommends persons with symptoms or who believe they have been exposed should take the PCR test which is the test the Harris County Public Health Department offers.
The PCR test gives a good indication of who is infected so that these individuals can isolate and the Public Health Department can begin contact tracing, Shah said.
“This is a tool that public health has used for decades,” he said. “It’s simply the process of identifying who an infected person may have encountered and treating them if needed to reduce the number of infections. Contact tracing has been used for tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections and now COVID-19. That is all we ask about. We don’t ask for bank accounts, credit card numbers or anything like that.”
Another viewer asked why close swimming pools?
Shah responded, “It’s about what people do when they swim. It is not just getting into the water. They talk. They touch. It is very social. And that’s why it is so risky.”
Shah commended Aaron for not opening the Humble pools.
“It was a tough decision,” the mayor responded, “but it was the right one.”
In response to how soon a person could test positive, Shah said it may take two to 14 days with symptoms often showing up in what he called the “sweet period” of five to seven days.
One viewer asked the protocol to follow if going to an open bar then returning to a home that is shared with an older couple.
“I’d first advise you to be careful where you go and always wear a mask,” Shah said. “If you were exposed, symptoms wouldn’t show for two days to two weeks. If you show symptoms in that time, get tested. If you test positive, then test the rest of the family.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jack Cagle paid a virtual visit as the hourlong tele-Townhall came to an end.
“I appreciate our partnership with the City of Humble,” Cagle said as his pet dog occasionally barked in the background. “When we needed testing in this part of the precinct, the mayor and the City of Humble were willing to open the door for a testing location for our Precinct 4 residents. Thanks for being true partners and for your civic mindedness.”
In addition to the partnership and testing, Cagle also echoed Shah’s support for tracing and praised the Public Health Department’s website as awesome.
“I lost two friends recently, both in that vulnerable age zone. So, why risk it? Be safe,” Cagle said.
On a lighter note as the tele-Townhall ended, Cagle commented favorably on Aaron’s newly grown goatee, matching the commissioner’s own goatee, and encouraged the clean-shaven Shah to join the group.
As the tele-Townhall ended, Aaron and Shah both praised the event and indicated that future tele-townhalls may be planned.
Video of the tele-Townhall is available on the Harris County Public Health Department website at publichealth.harriscountytx.gov or on Facebook @HarrisCountyPublicHealth.