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Labs in Dallas, Tarrant Counties now have capability of testing for coronavirus

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in North Texas, officials say.

DALLAS — Updated at 11:45 a.m. Thursday with new information regarding Tarrant County's lab. 

Labs in both Dallas and Tarrant counties now have the capability to test for coronavirus, officials say. 

Dallas County Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that it has been working with partners at the state and federal levels to bring the capability to the Local Response Network laboratory. 

On Thursday morning, the Tarrant County Public Health Department also announced it has a lab with the capability of testing for COVID-19. 

At this time, no cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in North Texas, but health officials say testing is a critical tool in responding to COVID-19.

"Although availability is limited at this time, we will be working with our medical community to ensure the test is available for people who meet the case definition for COVID-19 testing," Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said. 

DCHHS Director Dr. Philip Huang says the department is taking the risk of an outbreak very seriously and is preparing for any level of response that may be needed.

"We've been monitoring any persons that have been coming from China, and we follow up with them," Huang said. "We monitor them for any fever or development of symptoms."

Huang also said his department is currently in the "containment phase." His team is working with health care providers, schools and businesses to prepare for changes if necessary.

Specifically, with school districts, Huang said his department is talking to school leaders to plan for "distance learning" in case students need to get work done away from campuses.

"We don't have any cases now, but we need to prepare for whatever possible response may be needed," Huang said. "It's not a time to panic. It is time to prepare." 

"We’ve dramatically strengthened Dallas County’s testing capability over the last five years and this specific testing capacity will decrease our test turnaround from 72 hours to less than a day," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. 

Until Thursday, health officials in Tarrant County had to send samples taken from patients showing COVID-19 symptoms to the CDC in Atlanta.  

Results could take up to a week, according to the Tarrant County Public Health Department. Testing locally could yield same-day or next-day results.

Tarrant County Health officials say they have received 800 test kits from the CDC and that more are on the way. It a written statement, Taneja said he expects the TCPH lab will be able to process 50 to 100 tests per day by next week.

RELATED: Tarrant County health officials currently taking coronavirus precautions

The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to those of the common cold or flu. They include fever, cough, some chest pain and shortness of breath. 

Based on previous similar illnesses, the CDC believes symptoms are likely to appear between two and 14 days after exposure.

As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified globally, health officials said it's important to maintain proper health hygiene. 

This means washing hands with soap and water, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, avoiding large crowded areas if possible, and most importantly staying home from work or school if you're sick.

"The general message is the best prevention that we can still do is what's the same prevention for the flu," Huang said. "Wash your hands. Don't touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve. If you're sick, stay home. Then regularly clean the surfaces that are touched frequently."

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