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Coronavirus comes to Georgia, officials say

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

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After dozens of cases cropped up across America last week resulting in two deaths to date, the Coronavirus has officially arrived in Georgia. As of press time on Tuesday, March 3, two cases were confirmed in Fulton County as State leaders scramble to educate the public and prepare hospitals and health departments for a possible outbreak. 

Last week, after a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading up the Trump Administration’s federal response team to the coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp announced the formation of a Georgia task force to address the disease. 

“Our team has been working around the clock to prepare for any scenario. Already, state health officials have established contact with these [infected] 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, MD, MPH, 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.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, “COVID-19 spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms appear within two to fourteen 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.”

The new Georgia task force will include Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency; Felipe den Brok, director of Atlanta’s Office of Emergency Preparedness; state Attorney General Chris Carr; Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health; and Cherie Drenzek, the state epidemiologist.

From the General Assembly, Kemp named House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, to the task force, along with Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Ben Watson, R-Savannah.From academia, the governor tapped Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the University System of Georgia; Greg Dozier, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia; and state School Superintendent Richard Woods.Health-care professionals on the task force include John Haupert, CEO of Grady Health System, and Dr. Colleen Kraft, director of Emory University’s Clinical Virology Research Laboratory.

“We have a robust plan in place,” Toomey said. “We’re working with other state agencies and partners to make sure we have all the systems in place to respond.”  

“The Trump administration understands that states and local governments are standing on the front lines of COVID-19,” Kemp said. “In accordance with the administration’s initiatives, Georgia’s coronavirus task force represents a coalition of subject-matter experts from the private and public sectors who will work together on preventative measures, strategic deployment of resources and collaboration across all levels of government.”

According to the release, As of Friday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia. Fourteen cases of the virus – which originated in China – have been diagnosed in the United States.

“We’re asking everyone to remain calm,” Kemp told reporters during a briefing Friday afternoon. “We have no confirmed cases in Georgia, but we want to be prepared for whatever comes our way.”

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