Gov. Brian Kemp and state health officials confirmed the first cases of coronavirus in Georgia late Monday night. Two people in Fulton County contracted the virus after one of them traveled to Italy.
The virus was contracted by a man traveling from Milan, Italy, returning via Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Both individuals with the virus are quarantined with relatives in their shared home.
The Department of Public Health is working to identify any contacts who may have been exposed while the individuals were infectious. People who are identified as having been exposed will be contacted directly by a DPH epidemiologist and monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.
“Our team has been working around the clock to prepare for any scenario. Already, state health officials have established contact with these individuals to gather more information, monitor their condition, and determine any exposure,” said Governor Kemp. “They are confident that our efforts to prepare for this moment have enabled us to manage these cases appropriately and minimize any risks moving forward. We remain in constant communication with our partners at all levels of government, and we will continue to update members of the public as information becomes available.”
“We knew that Georgia would likely have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and we planned for it. The immediate risk of COVID-19 to the general public, however, remains low at this time,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H, DPH commissioner. “I cannot emphasize enough the need for all Georgians to follow the simple precautions that DPH always urges to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.”
Locally, the Pickens County School District issued a letter to parents on Monday saying it had “assembled a team to prepare a plan founded in the guidelines and best practices” of local public safety officials, the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia Department Education.
In the letter, the school system promised to reinforce everyday good health habits. Custodians, the letter said, are “dedicated to keeping our schools clean and children safe with numerous industry best practices in place.”
The letter asked parents to “please reinforce with your children the importance of everyday good health habits including frequently washing your hands; using a tissue when you sneeze or cough and then throwing it away; keeping your fingers out of your eyes, nose and mouth; not sharing water bottles or similar containers; staying home when sick. When children have a fever, they need to stay home from school and be fever free, without the aid of fever-reducing medication, for at least 24 hours before returning to school.”
Dozens of cases and a handful of deaths traced to the new flu-like virus have been confirmed in several states in recent weeks. The first two cases in Georgia came days after Kemp tasked a group of specialists including Toomey, State Epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek and public safety officials with handling virus prevention and response activities.
Local physicians Dr. Carl McCurdy and Dr. Ken Austin will give informational talks on COVID-19 on Wednesday, March 18th at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Jasper and again at the church on Sunday, March 29th at 10 a.m. Both doctors will answer any questions the public may have regarding the virus.
COVID-19 spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Those considered at risk for contracting the virus are individuals with travel to areas where there are ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 or individuals in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19.
Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, 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.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The flu is still widespread and active throughout the state, so if you have not already gotten a flu shot, it is not too late. While the flu shot will not protect against COVID-19, it will prevent serious complications that require hospitalization and prevent overburdening the health care system in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
If you have recently traveled to areas where there are ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 and develop fever with cough and shortness of breath within 14 days of your travel, or if you have had contact with someone who is suspected to have COVID-19, stay home and call your health care provider or local health department right away. Be sure to call before going to a doctor’s office, emergency room, or urgent care center and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.