Coronavirus: Austin Medic Contracts Illness

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch

AUSTIN, TX — An Austin-Travis County EMS medic tested positive for new coronavirus, Austin Public Health officials confirmed on Wednesday.

This marks the first case of a first responder testing positive for the respiratory ailment now known as COVID-19, caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have triggered outbreaks in the past.

Upon learning of the diagnosis, health officials said, Austin-Travis County EMS provided housing for the paramedic and additional supportive needs such as food, medical care and mental health services.

Don't miss the latest coronavirus updates from health and government officials in the Austin area. Sign up for Patch news alerts and newsletters for what you need to know daily.

The medic is showing mild illness, health officials noted. Austin Public Health also is conducting contact tracing and informing those who may have had close personal contact with this individual, officials said.

Related stories:

Since the beginning of the spread of COVID-19 in Travis County, the City has taken proactive measures to limit exposures to personnel and the public since before confirmed COVID-19 cases reached the region, health officials said. For example, officials pointed to a March 12 measure requiring ring all medics to take their temperatures every 12 hours while on and off duty. Austin Public Health works closely with paramedics to triage and manage patients in order to maintain everyone’s safety, officials added.

"The health and safety of our first responders is our highest priority," Austin Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett said in a prepared statement. "The exposure of the ATCEMS medic was not the result of a breach of protocol. We have measures in place to ensure they are properly protected and equipped when they respond to calls of flu-like symptoms. We will continue to reassess first responder protocols as needed during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation."

Health officials added that as testing continues to expand in Austin-Travis County, priority is given to our first responders — including Austin-Travis County EMS medics, health care workers, higher risk individuals and those who work in critical infrastructure.

The case emerged on the heels of an alert by Austin-Travis County EMS informing the public of a shelter-in-place order implemented by city and county officials. The measure was taken to mitigate potential spread of contagion.

Austin Public Health reminded residents to continue taking measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 to keep medical professionals, public safety professionals, friends, family and neighbors safe. This involves practicing good personal hygiene while maintaining social distance during essential activities to disrupt the spread of the virus.

Proper hygiene practices include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue to cover it, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

For more COVID-19 updates and information, click here.