On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to cope with the spread of the coronavirus. Closer to home, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference Thursday in response to a “presumptive” case of COVID-19 in Fort Bend County outside Houston.
The story of the coronavirus and its related disease, COVID-19, is a developing one. But Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says he does expect the coronavirus to spread in the U.S., inclucing Texas.
Hotez is also co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Hotez says incidents of so-called community spread of the virus is what he’s watching most closely. Community spread is when a virus spreads in an area without having been transmitted from an outbreak zone abroad. Recent COVID-19 cases in Seattle are examples of that.
But Hotez says there isn’t much community spread of the coronavirus right now in the U.S. If it were to increase, he says “that [would] mean that we’re starting to see the beginning of an epidemic take off.”
One hurdle in preventing that spread is the limited number of coronavirus testing kits. Hotez says it could take a couple of weeks for health authorities to acquire an adequate supply.
But he urges the public not to panic; a COVID-19 epidemic wouldn’t look like the kind of apocalyptic scenario he says some might fear.
“It’s not like you’re gonna wake up on Sunday morning and find that all of San Antonio is infected,” Hotez says. “You’II gradually see increase in number of cases. Then, you may see the beginnings of community spread. But you do have time to see how this unfolds.”
“Be mindful,” he says.
Hotez and his colleagues have two COVID-19 vaccines in development, but he says it’s surprisingly hard to get funding to start clinical trials.
“You’d think it’d be a no-brainer by this point, but it’s still pretty tough to get funding,” he says.
He’s working with the federal government to help it prepare for the spread of the virus, and says he recommends health officials be especially protective of three groups: adults over age 60, health care workers and first responders.
Written by Caroline Covington.