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Health Officials Urge Amarilloans To Continue Social Distancing, Stay Home To "Flatten The Curve"

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City of Amarillo
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Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson, City Manager Jared Miller and local health care providers discuss Amarillo's COVID-19 situation during a live Facebook video Wednesday.

Continued social distancing, among other things, is vital to preventing the spread of coronavirus. That was the primary message sent by Amarillo officials and health care providers during a press conference Wednesday. But the panel also urged people suffering from other serious conditions to seek medical attention.

There were 115 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Amarillo area - 103 are from community spread - as of Thursday.

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson reiterated the importance of social distancing to help stem the spread during a panel discussion about COVID-19, broadcast from the City of Amarillo's Facebook page on Wednesday. 

“Hold on. Stay all in,” Nelson said. “It’s making a difference and I'm convinced this is going to keep our curve flat here in Amarillo and that it's going to save lives.”

Nelson was joined in the discussion by the city manager, the city health department director and physicians from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, BSA Health System, Northwest Texas Healthcare System and the Amarillo VA Medical Center. 

Casie Stoughton, director of the Amarillo Department of Public Health, said only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home, but reminded people to also wash their hands regularly and to wear fabric, non-medical masks.  

“But stay(ing) home is the very best thing to do,” Stoughton said.

Dr. Scott Milton, public health authority with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said the majority of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, or have very mild symptoms, making it difficult to know they even have the virus, which Stoughton said makes staying at home and practicing social distancing that much more important. 

Several models projecting when Amarillo will see a peak in COVID-19 cases widely varied, said Milton. 

“I think the phrase, ‘let’s plan for the worst and hope for the best,’ is the best advice I could give regarding these models,” Milton said.

Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller said if Amarillo did see a spike in COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization, that there is plenty of hospital capacity, largely because of Nelson’s order cancelling all non-elective surgeries and procedures. 

But people experiencing serious medical symptoms unrelated to COVID-19, to seek medical attention. ,  

Dr. Michael Lamanteer, chief medical officer with BSA Health System, said emergency medical crews have been reporting that people experiencing serious medical conditions are waiting too long to call for help when they are experiencing symptoms associated with cardiac arrest, stroke and other chronic medical conditions.

“Please call for help. Come to the hospital,” Lamanteer said, adding that the chance of acquiring COVID-19 at any of Amarillo’s medical facilities is very unlikely. “The risk of you having an adverse outcome from your chronic illness is higher than you acquiring COVID.”

Of the 115 COVID-19 cases reported in Amarillo Thursday, 100 are isolating at home and 15 are being treated at medical facilities.

Dr. Brian Weis, chief medical officer at the Northwest Texas Healthcare System, added that EMS crews are also very vigilant about cleaning emergency vehicles, so the chance of acquiring COVID-19 from an ambulance or other kind of emergency vehicle is also very unlikely.  

Lamanteer also spoke about testing capacity and said turnaround times have greatly improved to around 24 hours, which he said allows medical providers to rule people in or out for having the virus. He said in-hospital testing is not yet available.

West Texas A&M University is donating 90 test kits to the City of Amarillo’s Public Health Department.

According to a press release issued by college officials on Monday, the kits are made from supplies from veterinary labs and consist of a swab, a vial with transport media to preserve the sample in the vial, and a bag. According to the press release, the instruments were cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and the transport media has been described by the FDA as an acceptable alternative, but not specifically approved by the FDA.

UT officials are donating 10 of the test kits to WT’s Student Medical Services.  

The City of Amarillo broadcasts live Facebook videos about Amarillo's COVID-19 situation on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m.