ARLINGTON, Texas - A senior citizen in Arlington has become the first North Texas death related to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Tarrant County Public Health confirmed late Tuesday that the man who died on Sunday tested positive for the new coronavirus. He was a resident of the Texas Masonic Retirement Center in Arlington.
The department released info about where the man lived because the facility provides housing to retired persons and senior citizens, people who are most vulnerable to the virus. They're also still not sure how he became infected.
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Family members identified him as 77-year-old Pat James. He died Sunday after developing pneumonia from what they thought was the flu. They did not know he had the new coronavirus until test results came back positive on Tuesday.
James' wife has been experiencing the same symptoms and is currently in isolation.
Tarrant County health officials said they are still trying to identify all of the people the man came in contact with so those people can be isolated and monitored. They are working closely with Texas Masonic Retirement Center, which is now closed to all visitors except in extraordinary circumstances.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was in Arlington Wednesday give an update on resources, local testing capability and what he considers priority goal number one.
“We’ve dealt with SARS. We’ve dealt with H1N1. We’ve dealt with Ebola. We will get through this,” he said. “We want to limit the spread of COVID-19 to other residents, and we want to limit the spread by anyone to anyone.”
The briefing was alongside Arlington and Tarrant County leaders on the heels of James’ death, the county’s first COVID-19 death. James and his wife lived in a private cottage style unit at the home, but they used public areas like the dining hall. A full tracking of people James had contact with is underway.
“This gentleman had no known travel or contact with any other COVID 19 patient. He represented the second localized spread case of COVID 19 in Tarrant County,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. “We currently have 9 positive cases. Two or maybe three, we’re still trying to determine on one of them whether it may have been local spread. This was the first death in Tarrant County.”
“They understood the necessity that Arlington and Tarrant County have more testing capability. I asked them to send it immediately,” Abbott said. “When I arrived in Arlington today, we had already received 2500 test kits to assist in the process.”
Regarding tighter social restrictions within communities, Gov. Abbott says a decision still in flux will come Thursday.
“I will be providing an announcement tomorrow that addresses all of this. But I do want to have the opportunity to get input from local elected officials today,” he said. “I’m telling every local elected official in the state of Texas we need to hear from you today.”
In the meantime, as testing expands and positive COVID-19 cases increase, the governor said he’s confident hospitals statewide can provide critical care and enough beds to meet whatever the need. He also spoke of solutions for widespread isolation.
“Stand-alone empty hotels or motels, they are very useful for single-person bedrooms,” he said. “They have a bathroom in them for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are not in critical care condition.”
Coronavirus health tips
While COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus, daily precautions recommended to prevent respiratory illnesses are the same:
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when you can't wash your hands.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, use the elbow of your sleeve. Don’t use your hands to cover coughs and sneezes.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick and keep children home when they are sick.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Get a flu shot. (Although the flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, it is flu season.)