Taking precautions: Public health school aims to prevent virus spread

In response to growing worry over the new coronavirus, the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville has called for all Tu Salud Si Cuenta exercise classes for the month of March to be cancelled.

UTSPH is the lead organization behind Tu Salud Si Cuenta and other community health programs.

The classes, which include strength training, dance, running, yoga and Zumba, normally take place at locations throughout Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 900 people in 36 states and Washington, D.C., had tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19, and at least 29 patients in the United States had died from it. Twenty-six cases had been reported in Texas, though no deaths in the state had been reported.

No cases had been reported in the Rio Grande Valley as of Tuesday afternoon. Mexico City has seven reported cases. Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday asked insurers to waive costs associated with COVID-19 testing and telemedicine visits for diagnosis.

Major differences between seasonal flu and the coronavirus are that no vaccines or therapeutics exist yet for COVID-19 as they do for influenza, according to the World Health Organization. While COVID-19 does not appear to transmit as easily as the flu, it causes more severe disease, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a March 3 media briefing.

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” he said. “That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.”

As cases of community transmission increase in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to prepare for significant disruptions. Based on the spread of COVID-19 in other countries, meanwhile, CDC is anticipating a pandemic.

Belinda Reininger, UTSPH regional dean, said that with no confirmed cases in the Valley currently, now is the best time to prepare and take steps to prevent the spread of the virus. UTSPH is looking at ways to continue providing support and education on health-related matters, but through electronic media rather than face-to-face, at least for the time being, she said.

“We are going to be providing updated information on a variety of topics,” Reininger said.

She emphasized that UTSPH is not pulling back from its mission of promoting community health and that it’s more important than ever for local residents to follow healthy practices.

“Eating healthy and being physically active are important today just like they are every day,” Reininger said. “We’re not stepping away. We’re not panicked. We don’t want anyone to panic. We want people to be prepared. … We believe that events like COVID-19 or seasonal flu or any of these should help us to focus on just how important and how precious our health is.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com