Although they’re not panicking, health officials in Galveston County say they’re making concerted efforts to be ready for COVID-19 should the emerging disease reach locals.

Amid growing national concern about an epidemic, top Galveston County health officials said Thursday they won’t be caught off guard if a case of the novel coronavirus shows up here.

They also urged people in the county to take precautions to stay healthy and to help avoid causing panic.

“There’s not a lot of worry at this moment, but we’re concerned that it’s coming, and we’re working very hard to be prepared for it,” Galveston County local health authority Dr. Philip Keiser said.

It seems “inevitable” that COVID-19 cases will begin to appear in the United States, and the real test for health districts and similar agencies will be quarantining and triaging people suspected of being exposed to the virus, Keiser said.

“The big questions are will our isolation and quarantine techniques be able to minimize it and how severe is it going to be,” Keiser said. “We don’t know the answer to that.”

COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.

Local health preparations have included identifying buildings and locations where people can be quarantined if a case is suspected, officials said.

On Thursday morning, the University of Texas Medical Branch had a community town hall to discuss its treatment plans and procedures should local cases emerge, said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, the medical branch’s chief medical officer.

“You always have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Sharma said.

Other forms of preparation that people might see in the community, such as buying and wearing protective masks or canceling large group gatherings, would be premature given the current state of the situation, Sharma said

Beyond the preparations of health officials and public agencies, there have been few apparent local disruptions because of the disease. The epidemic fears come as Galveston prepares for the start of spring break, which typically brings large crowds to the island.

“Our first concern is public safety and to be a conduit for sharing appropriate and accurate information with our partners in the tourism industry,” said Park Board of Trustees Executive Director Kelly de Schaun.

The park board manages the Galveston Island Convention Center and, as of Thursday, the board hadn’t canceled any event or received any calls with concerns about holding large events, de Schaun said.

Public attention on COVID-19 has increased as more diagnoses of the disease have been identified outside of China. Health officials in California on Thursday identified a person with the disease but didn’t know how that person contracted it.

That news came two days after an official from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency expected to see “community spread” of the virus, and the disruptions it causes could be severe.

As of Thursday, there have been 14 cases of COVID-19 identified in the United States, not counting the dozens of people who have been repatriated to the country after being infected overseas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday met with state health officials in Austin to discuss the threat posed to the state and, like the local health officials, said leaders are prepared to deal with whatever situation emerges.

“I’m not saying it’s happening,” Abbott said. “I want you to know that we are preparing for any possibility.”

Abbott spoke with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday to discuss the federal government’s plans to deal with an epidemic, he said.

At Abbott’s press conference, health officials also said state laboratories had received permission to start testing medical samples for COVID-19 and were in the process of preparing equipment to be able to conduct such tests.

Until Thursday, only the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was allowed to test for and confirm cases of COVID-19.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


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(45) comments

Michelle Aycoth

I would not travel to a state or country with more than a 1/2 dozen cases. Would not get on a plane or cruise ship either till we know how severe this may become.

Andy Aycoth

Bailey Jones

So many of us travel for a living - airline crews, truck drivers, train operators, ships coming in from all around the world, etc. But certainly avoiding large international gatherings - like trade shows and conferences is a good idea. A friend at a large telecom corp tells me they've canceled an upcoming international trade show. I read that Saudi Arabia is canceling the hajj. These are prudent, common sense responses. Because of the early warning system we have in place, no city or state (or family or school district or industry) should be caught unawares. I'm glad to see that the county is taking this seriously. Personally, I'm not expecting a huge pandemic - exactly because everyone is taking it so seriously. In times of peace, prepare for war - as the saying goes.

Carlos Ponce

Bailey, did you alter your travel plans during the 2009 swine flu pandemic which involved up to 1.4 Billion infected and killed an estimated 575,000 worldwide?

Bailey Jones

I don't travel much, so no. But we did implement a set a tools at work that would allow us to telework in the event of an actual pandemic.

In the first year of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, there were, according to the CDC (, an estimated 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the US. That calculates to a mortality rate of 0.02%. (Notice that I use the actual CDC data ranges. The worldwide death total you quoted is also a range (151,700-575,400), but I understand that you chose the extreme value in an attempt to bolster your point.)

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is 2%, which is 100 times higher than the H1N1 virus, so COVID-19 is, by simple math, 100 times deadlier than the swine flu. A similar rate of infection in the US would result in not 12,000 deaths, but 1,200,000 deaths.

But since you bring up the swine flu, there is one item that is interesting. Since the introduction of the H1N1 flu strain in 2009, it continues to return year after year. This is the most troubling aspect of the COVID-19 virus, that it will become a regular yearly occurrence.

A detailed description of the Obama administration's year long response to the 2009 pandemic is here -

Presumably the Trump administration will be able to build on this foundation for this latest, potentially much more deadly, outbreak.

Carlos Ponce

My numbers came from the World Health Organization (WHO), hence the difference.

Gary Miller

Michelle> We already know it is not as bad as the common flue which kills more every year . Convid-19? The 19th version of the Coronus virus. The 19th scare that turned out to not be as bad as hyped.

Bailey Jones

COVID-19 stands for corona virus disease 2019, and refers to the disease. The virus is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). SARS-CoV-2 is the second version of the virus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.

Ray Taft

Issue a warning against the Democrats.

Do-nothing Democrats are busy wasting time on the Impeachment Hoax, the Immigration Hoax, and opposing all the good President Trump has done for America for their own selfish political purposes to try to make President Trump look bad.

Democrats and their MSM allies are doing whatever they can to stoke a national Coronavirus panic. They refuse to discuss the great job our professionals are doing under President Trump.

President Trump is busy protecting America by calling for early BORDER & FLIGHT closings, putting us way ahead in our battle with the Coronavirus. Our great Vice President and many professionals are doing a fine job at CDC and at other agencies on the Coronavirus situation.

Democrats are so wrong on so many things that a public safety alert should be issued to ignore them.

jimmy winston

Are you goin to cry

Carlos Ponce

Don't worry Jimmy. We'll help you dry your tears when Trump wins re-election. I hope they are tears of joy.

Charles Douglas


Charles Douglas

One Thumb for Mr. TAFT, and that other one was for Mr. Ponce! Lolo

Carlos Ponce


January 21, 2020 - first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States. The House was preparing impeachment proceedings for the Senate.

January 23, 2020 - the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from Wuhan. Congress was still involved with impeachment.

January 29, 2020 - the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from China. Congress was still involved with impeachment.

January 31, 2020 - the Department of State ordered the departure of all family members under age 21 of U.S. personnel in China. Trump Administration Restricts Entry Into U.S. From China. Any foreign national who has traveled within China in the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter the United States. Congress still tied up in impeachment.

February 2, 2020 - US announces: Any US citizen who has traveled to China will have to undergo a health screening upon entering in the US, and will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Any US citizen who has traveled to the Hubei province will have to undergo a mandatory quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the US; this is because 14 days is the longest estimate of how long it takes for symptoms of the virus to appear. Incoming China flights restricted to seven airports. World Health Organization warns against travel bans. Congress still tied up with impeachment.

February 6, 2020 - Trump acquitted by the Senate.

Trump's administration has been working on the corona virus since it entered the United States.

Bailey Jones

As the Coronavirus COVID-19 threatens to wreak havoc around the world, two of Galveston County's most intrepid First Responders, Ray and Carlos, leap into action:

Ray - "Carlos, there are new cases popping up all around the world! This could be a tragedy of epic proportions - for the president."

Carlos - "I know Ray, and markets everywhere are crashing. The worldwide effects - on the president - could be terrible!"

Ray - "And science is saying it'll only get worse!"

Carlos - "Science? Bah! I'll use my Gift of Discernment to find the answer.... I've got it! Let's blame the Democrats!"

Ray - "Amazing, that's exactly what Hannity said last night."

Carlos - "I know - eerie, isn't it? Quickly now, to the comments page!"

Tune in again next week for another exciting episode of Trump Political Theatre. Same Trump Time. Same Trump Channel.

(Brought to you by Trump Tower Dubai - "A Luxury Hideaway for the Healthy Wealthy")

Dru Walters

[beam] You got that right! lol!

Carlos Ponce

Bailey seems to be acting like Adam Schiff and making up things to fit his political bias.

Ray - "Carlos, there are new cases popping up all around the world! This could be a tragedy of epic proportions - for the president."

Carlos - No, Ray. The stock market downtrend is just a knee jerk reaction. Too many traders are using "lemming" apps that follow trends.The biggest fall is in Apple stocks and other companies who exported American jobs to China and other Asian countries hit by the Corona Virus. Things will be better after the initial panic dies away. Don't jump off any buildings.

Bailey, sing this song:

The sun will come out Tomorrow

So ya gotta hang on 'Til tomorrow

Come what may

Tomorrow! Tomorrow!

I love ya Tomorrow!

You're only a day away.

Bailey Jones

Oh, I'm not worried about the market, Carlos. Of course, I don't depend on it for my political popularity. Anyone who is still in the stock market after 11 years of uninterrupted growth is a fool. A downturn was inevitable - the only surprise is that it's taken this long. I've been out of the market for a while. As soon as it drops a bit more, I'll jump back in and ride it back up to 30,000.

Mike Zeller

Bailey, you hit the nail on the head. Those Dems will do anything to take Trump down, even create a worldwide pandemic.Trump showed those Dems a thing or two, he put his number 1 guy in charge, "Pray it away" Pence. God help us.

Bailey Jones

And everyone knows Demoncrats control the stock market.

Carlos Ponce

Pence is well qualified since he took care of epidemics that hit Indiana while he was governor. MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) made it's first appearance in this country in Indiana while he was governor in 2014. In 2015 he issued an executive order extending Scott County needle exchange to combat an HIV epidemic.

Jim Forsythe

Carlos, I would not be touting Pence's HIV plan that was to little, to late.

Pence’s public health record in Indiana is not the best. In Scott County, he had a frustrating oversight, considering nearly 200 people contracted HIV while Pence twiddled his thumbs over harm reduction and de-emphasized public health spending.

The governor resisted, but, under enormous pressure, he eventually agreed to a partial lifting of the ban on needle exchange.. But critics say the statewide compromise has been ineffective because it offered little financial help to cash-strapped counties and permitted only “limited and accountable" exchange programs, as Pence described it.

That approach even being slow, helped quell the crisis in Scott County after 200 people contracting HIV, but did little for other communities struggling with clusters of hepatitis C and HIV infections from addicts sharing dirty needles

Pence eventually agreed to extend the amnesty in Scott County beyond 30 days and to sign statewide legislation lifting the state ban on exchange programs. That compromise did not give counties a green light to distribute sterile needles to intravenous drug users, however. Instead, it requires officials from counties experiencing increasing HIV or hepatitis C infections to declare a public health emergency and then submit a plan for state approval to set up needle exchange programs for up to one year.

The legislation didn’t include any money to assist counties, many of which are rural and already struggling. And it explicitly prohibited using state funds to purchase syringes.

Carlos Ponce

Jim presents a Liberal take on what happened.

Craig Mason

That is hilarious. I love the Batman reference.

Rick Vaughn

Even as China was announcing that its deaths from the novel coronavirus had surpassed its toll from SARS, President Donald Trump released a proposed budget for 2021 that slashed funding for our chief defender against epidemics by 18 percent.

Within the overall proposed cuts detailed on Feb. 10 for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was a reduction in spending to guard against “emerging and zoonotic diseases” from $635,772,000 to $550,464,000.

These cuts could’ve been paid for with his golf tab....

George Caros

Drump is in trouble doesn't know what to do the stock markets are crashing the virus is spreading and I'm sure he will be at the golf course this weekend

Russell Tidwell

So spending more money is the answer?

Carlos Ponce

I see Rick Vaughn is copying from the Daily Beast. How about looking at the actual budget?

“emerging and zoonotic diseases” comes from a SEPARATE part of the budget - Agricultural research, NOT disease control. It's on page 27 of the budget.

Influenza control comes on page 53:

"Enhances Influenza Vaccines and Health Security. The Budget supports executive Order 13887, 'Modernizing Influenza Vaccines in the United States to Promote National Security and Public Health,' by providing a $95 million INCREASE, compared to the 2020 enacted level, across HHS for influenza vaccine manufacturing infrastructure and innovation; advanced research and development of improved vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics; international pandemic preparedness; improved non-egg-based vaccines; and improved vaccine coverage nationwide. The Budget improves access to non-egg-based influenza vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries by proposing a change in Medicare payment for influenza vaccines. The Budget also funds HHS biodefense and emergency preparedness procurement through the BioShield program and the Strategic National Stockpile, and includes $175 million to support CDC’s global health security activities, an INCREASE of $50 million compared to the 2020 enacted level."

Gary Miller

Rick> You are guilty of repeating a Democrat lie. The CDC budget has not been cut, It's actually been increased. Just not increased as much as Democrats wanted.

Michael Byrd

Hope our port has an action plan with crews coming from all over the world.

Carlos Ponce

Galveston once had a quarantine station on Pelican Island...

Emile Pope

Virus outbreak. Just don’t forget who wants to take away your health insurance. Or the person who crippled the CDC.

Carlos Ponce

Democrats want to take away job provided insurance for a one size fits all program. Democrats consider the employer provided insurance "Cadillac Plans." That's why some unions are opting not to endorse any Democrat candidate this election cycle.

Emile Pope

Made up garbage...

Carlos Ponce

Emile, nothing is made up. All is true.

Jim Forsythe

Jul 17 2019: The House voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would scrap Obamacare’s so-called Cadillac tax, an inactive provision of the health law meant to help control health-care spending. The tax, set to go into effect in 2022, is unpopular with both Republicans and Democrats, who say it punishes the middle class. The bill easily passed with 419 lawmakers voting yes.

August 14, 2019: The House, now controlled by Democrats, recently voted overwhelmingly — 419-6 — to repeal that part of the ACA entirely. A Senate companion bill is bipartisan and now has a total of 61 co-sponsors — more than enough to ensure passage.

Jim Forsythe

If the coronavirus proves not be a big thing in the USA, it is giving us a chance for us to make sure are response teams are in place and well trained. No one know how bad it will become in the USA. Will it mutate as HIV did? At this time it is to early to know what will happen. We can take this time and get ready, just like for hurricanes or a watermain break like Houston just had. If we get a huge outbreak, no one will want to get out do the things like food shopping. If nothing happens, your are ready for hurricane season.

One of the lessons we have learned is we do not have enough N95 face masks and protective suits . Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the US already has 30 million but needs 270 million more for healthcare workers as the country braces for the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

It was reported that it will be one year or more before a vaccine is ready for coronavirus.

Leadership needs to be appointeed.

In May 2018, the top White House official in charge of the U.S. response to pandemics left the administration. Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer was the senior director of global health and biodefense on the National Security Council and oversaw global health security issues.

Tom Bossert, a homeland security adviser who recommended strong defenses against disease and biological warfare, was reportedly pushed out by Bolton in 2018. Neither White House official or their teams, which were responsible for coordinating the U.S. response to pandemic outbreaks across agencies, have been replaced during the past two years.

In November 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and experts formally recommended that health security leadership on the NSC should be restored. And on Feb. 18, 2020, a group of 27 senators sent a letter to current National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to ask him to appoint a new global health security expert to the NSC.

Carlos Ponce

We don't want a rush to the "cure" Remember the Swine Flu vaccination of 1976 which left several people paralyzed.

Jim Forsythe

Carlos what you said about not taking long enough was true in the past, but things have changed since Swine Flu .

Making a new vaccine use to take a decade or longer. But new genetic technologies and new strategies make researchers optimistic that they can shorten that timetable to months, and possibly weeks — and have a tool by the fall that can slow the spread of infection.

It used to take a long time to make vaccines, because scientists had to isolate and grow the virus in the lab. But now, it's possible to skip that step altogether and build a vaccine based on a virus' genetic sequence. Chinese scientists made that genetic sequence from the new coronavirus public in early January, just weeks after the first infections with the virus were reported. That prompted several labs to start work on building a vaccine. The vaccine that's is bring developed is what's called a DNA vaccine. What will take the longest will be the testing.

Carlos Ponce

Proceed with caution. Consider all the ads about pharmaceuticals that were tested and now come with warnings. But you can volunteer to take the first shot. Hey, it worked for Charlton Heston in the Omega Man!

Jim Forsythe

All the drugs I take, come with a warning. At this time testing the new vaccine for coronavirus is being done. It will have warning, just like most of the medicine do.

Warning are given to protect us. This does not mean that we should not take them , but just be aware of what could happen. One example

Penicillin side effects : Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction to penicillin V: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat. Call your doctor at once if you have any of these serious side effects:diarrhea that is watery or bloody; fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms; easy bruising or bleeding, unusual weakness;urinating less than usual or not at all; severe skin rash, itching, or peeling; agitation, confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior; or seizure (black-out or convulsions).

Carlos Ponce

Inquiry: Did you take the 1976 Swine Flu Vaccine? I didn't. As a college Senior I thought the disease was over hyped.

Jim Forsythe

I did take it in 2009.

There was concern in mid-2009 that, should a second, deadlier wave of this new H1N1 strain appear during the northern autumn of 2009

Charles Douglas

"Cast all Your anxieties and worries on him for he cares.." 1 Peter 5:7.

Matthew 6:34 ..."Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Therefore, no evil shall befall me nor my house, no plague, CORONAVIRUS, INFLUENZA, COLD, or other disease shall come nye me or my house, ..nor where we lay our heads or place our feet; no trauma, accidents, calamity or terror shall cross our pathways, and no plots, tricks, traps, schemes,scams, thefts, frauds, or strategies of evil men nor Satan Himself, shall manifest to affect nor harm me of my family. Lastly ..I loose ministering spirits called angels, who GOD sends into the earth, to serve those who loves him, and to encamp about his people day and night ...harkening to the voice of his word! AMEN! AND Amen again! Now! Seems to me somebody need to acquire some faith and expectation of ascertaining what is promised under God's covenant to those who invokes it! I wish I could tell about all the times my life has been jerked back from death! Not enough space or time! Ohhh one "MO" thing......TRUMP DIESELLLLLL!! [wink]

Charles Douglas

Well Ole Prid Pro Quo Joe is at it again! He don't know what state he is in most of the time, ...forgets weather he is running for the Presidency or the Senate, he is admitting and FESSING up that he lied about being arrested in South Africa, while trying to meet Mandela! He says now....that He was just stopped! L ololo. Stay tuned, because he might have to come back and admit that he was nowhere near South Africa! Lolo.

Charles Douglas

!!Quid Pro Quo!! Correction.

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