Virus and the VA

HARLINGEN — “Are you currently having flu-like symptoms such as fever/chills, new onset of cough or shortness of breath?”

That’s the first question veterans — or anyone else — must answer upon entering the Harlingen VA Clinic facilities.

The VA is taking steps to ensure veterans and their families are safe from COVID-19, which is now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday more than 197,000 cases had been confirmed worldwide with almost 8,000 fatalities.

In the U.S., more than 6,000 confirmed cases had been reported with 94 fatalities.

In Texas, there was one fatality and 64 cases reported Tuesday afternoon as of press time.

The virus has not yet been seen in the Valley, but the VA here is nevertheless taking precautions.

“We are following suit with the recommendations for the Centers for Disease Control,” said Hugo Martinez, acting public affairs officer for Harlingen VA.

The CDC advises people to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after being in a public place, or after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

They should avoid touching their faces. Those in areas with a high rate of infection should maintain safe distance from others.

Frequently-touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches and phones should be disinfected each day, says the CDC.

And in response to this heightened awareness, the VA is screening veterans.

“We’re just asking the standard questions,” Martinez said. “We’re asking veterans if they have any of the symptoms related to the COVID-19.”

Another question refers to travel bans.

“In the last 14 days, have you traveled to a high-risk area for transmission of COVID-19?”

Areas include China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy and the rest of Europe.

“Lastly, we ask veterans if they’ve been exposed to someone that has been confirmed to have had the COVID-19 virus,” Martinez said. “Anyone who answers yes to any of these questions will go through further evaluations.”

Martinez said other than the new safety precautions, the VA in Harlingen was conducting business as usual.

However, Tuesday afternoon things were starting to change.

“We are currently evaluating elective procedures, those that could possibly wait until some of this is behind us,” he said. “Health care for veterans is paramount. It’s the reason we are here, and as much as possible we’re going to continue to provide them with the best care possible.”

For updated information at the VA, call 1-855-864-0516.