Tackling Houston-area coronavirus myths

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As more coronavirus cases spread throughout the country, a number of rumors about the virus are also being spread.

During a news conference Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said there are rumors circulating around about coronavirus. So much so, the county has created a rumor control website.

"I really ask people to check again before they share something they saw online, because even if we don't intend to do it maliciously, it does end up harming the community," Hidalgo said. "It spreads unnecessary fear, and it hurts some facets of our community."

READ MORE: No confirmed cases of coronavirus in Harris Co., judge Lina Hidalgo says
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WATCH: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo reminds neighbors of steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

ABC13 has also heard a number of myths. We made calls to find out what's false information.

Myth: There are cases of the coronavirus in the Houston area.

True. Earlier in the week, Harris County and city of Houston officials reported no cases at that time. However, since then, the county confirmed two travel-related cases and Houston said there's a presumptive positive case.

Myth: There is a confirmed case at a local hospital, but because of RodeoHouston, officials aren't sharing the information.

False. ABC13 asked specifically about the case on Monday, which did not turn out to be one of the confirmed cases in the county. Still, officials said they are working with RodeoHouston, and have a plan in place in case something were to happen. They're also encouraging people if they don't feel well to avoid going to the event.

Myth: An online petition is growing to get the large Austin event, "South by Southwest" canceled this year due to coronavirus concerns.

True. As of Monday night, nearly 25,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking for the event in Austin to be canceled. ABC13 contacted organizers. They tell us the event will start later this month and safety is the top priority. Organizers said some vendors have pulled out. They also said while there are people coming from across the globe, none are from China.

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Myth: A Rice University employee has been tested for the coronavirus, and a group of students and faculty members are quarantined.

True. The university said an employee is being tested, and a group of 17 people are being self-quarantined. Rice later confirmed one of their employees has among the two Harris County cases that were announced Thursday.

Myth: All passengers at Houston-area airports are being screened for the coronavirus.

False. Houston Airport Systems officials had begun preparations to screen only passengers arriving on direct flights from China. Those flights have been suspended and redirected to other airports in the U.S. where screening takes place. Still, airport officials said their facilities are being deeply cleansed to prevent the virus spread.

Myth: Houston-area hospitals don't have the equipment to test for the coronavirus.

True. Harris County leaders said Monday that as of now, all testing runs out of the CDC in Atlanta. However, Gov. Abbott announced that six public labs in Texas, including one in Houston, are fully equipped to test for coronavirus. He addressed the benefits on March 5.

Myth: Chinatown business employees are being quarantined and tested for the coronavirus.

False. Harris County leaders said rumors circulating about coronavirus in Chinatown continues to economically hurt area businesses. Leaders said there is no reason to avoid going to the area. They emphasized that fact by dining at restaurants in the area on March 5.

There are also myths surrounding how the virus is spread and best ways to combat it. The World Health Organization has set-up a myth-busters website to answer those questions.

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