QA: An explanation of ‘community spread’

By Catherine Marfin

The Dallas Morning News

Not only has the new coronavirus reached North Texas, but officials say Dallas County could have its first positive test of “community spread” COVID-19. The spread is reaching communities across the country and experts say the cases of COVID19 will spike exponentially.

What does community spread mean, and how do you stop it? Here’s what you need to know:

Q: What is community spread?

A: Community spread means that someone has become infected with the virus but health officials aren’t sure where, or how, the individual was infected.

During the very early stages of the outbreak, people at the highest risk of infection were those who had recently traveled to affected areas. The first cases were found in people who recently traveled to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak originated. But as the disease has spread globally, people have become infected after travelling to other places, such as Italy, Kentucky and California.

The term community spread has been more widely used since late February, when a person in California tested positive for the virus but had no recent travel history that would put her at risk for infection.

City officials and health experts have taken extreme action, such as closing schools and businesses, because the virus is harder to control once people are passing it to one another within the community.

Q: How do you stop community spread?

A: Health experts have said social distancing, the practice of avoiding public areas, crowded places and staying several feet apart from other people, can stop or slow community spread.

The concept of social distancing has spurred work-from-home practices among many companies and the cancellation of large-scale gatherings and sporting events, as well as spring break extensions across the country.

Dr. John Carlo, former Dallas County medical director and CEO of Prism Health North Texas, said social distancing in the form of event cancellations is the most logical first step in controlling a community outbreak.

“At this point, if you close or cancel all mass gatherings with 250 people or more, that’s probably the first thing,” he said. “And you should do that not when you have cases, but before. You have to be preemptive, you have to be in front before you see a substantial number of cases.”

Health experts say other disease preventive methods, including frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequently cleaning household and other high-touch surfaces can also play a part in combating community spread.