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Two coronavirus cases confirmed in Georgia

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Two coronavirus cases confirmed in Georgia

Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey speaks during a March 2 press conference. Screen shot obtained via Facebook.
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Gov. Brian Kemp on March 2 confirmed there are two coronavirus cases identified in Georgia.

Kemp called a press conference at 10 p.m. on Monday evening, March 2, to announce the news.

“We have two confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Georgia,” Kemp said during the press conference. “Two individuals who reside in the same household. One recently returned from Italy. Both are isolated at home with other family. Georgians should remain calm. We were ready for today. We have been preparing, as we know, for several weeks. Every development has come forward just as we expected it would.”

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said officials learned about the case hours before calling the press conference. She said the two identified cases were in Fulton County. She said the person who was infected had been to Milan.

“You’re more likely to have encountered coronavirus there than in Georgia,” she said.

Toomey predicted there would be other cases within the community.

“I suspect we’ll see other cases and I hope all of them go as smoothly as this did,” Toomey said.

Six people have died so far from the virus in the United States, the Washington Post reports. All of those cases occurred in Washington state.

Local leaders say they are watching and waiting as coronavirus begins spreading across the United States.

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The DeKalb County Board of Health said it would lead any local public health response.

“The DeKalb County Board of Health, one of 18 health districts in Georgia under the direction of DPH, would lead the local response,” according to Eric Nickens with the county Health Board.  “The DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency would be a critical key partner in such a response.”

The DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency didn’t have anything about the virus on its website as of March 1 but on March 2 updated the site with information about how it intends to respond if there’s a widespread outbreak here.

“DEMA’s role is to ensure that county departments have a continuity of operations plan in the case of an emergency,” the agency said. “The current strategy here at DEMA is to monitor and evaluate the current conditions for the spread. We are focusing on the latest statistics from credible sources and encourage everyone to do the same. If we hear of any updates we will be disseminating that information through our social media platforms. We want to ensure that this information is consistent with our local Board of Health offices and State Emergency Management Agency. Currently, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to use standard flu precautions. Avoid close contact with those who are sick, cover you cough or sneeze with a tissue, avoid touching your face, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, etc. Educating and informing the public is a priority right now. Inside county departments and externally throughout the community we need to make sure that citizens are aware of the necessary precautions. Educate your staff, educate your family, educate the community!”

Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold addressed the city’s plans during the City Commission’s March 2 meeting. When she made her remarks, state officials hadn’t announced that there were confirmed cases of the virus in Georgia.

“It’s clearly a very fast-moving, fluid situation that we’re paying attention to,” she said.

Arnold said any actions the city takes would be communicated with the city’s community partners.

“We are taking guidance from other agencies,” Arnold said. “I feel very confident we’ve done our work until this point. I will continue to keep the community and commission involved as this all progresses.”

Chinese health officials believe the virus came from an animal source in the city of Wuhan that then spread person-to-person. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that affect animals, including camels, cats and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Officials suspect the 2019 novel strain, identified as 2019-nCoV, emerged from the SARS virus, which killed hundreds around the globe in 2003. There is no vaccine for this strain of coronavirus.

Symptoms include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath and can appear anywhere between two days or two weeks after exposure. The coronavirus spreads person-to-person, much like influenza, and can easily be contracted through exposure to someone who has the virus. In the current outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control said, symptoms have ranged from infected people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying. Older people and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable.

Here are the recommendations from the DeKalb County Board of Health:

– Wash your hands often with soap and 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.

– Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue to cover it, then throw the tissue in the trash.

– Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The DeKalb County Board of Health is encouraging people not to buy facemasks.

“Surgical masks should be reserved for people who exhibit symptoms (to prevent them from spreading the virus through respiratory secretions such as saliva or mucus) and healthcare professionals who are taking care of sick people,” the DeKalb County Board of Health says. “Regular surgical face masks are not effective in protecting against the coronavirus, according to the CDC. A more specialized face mask known as N95 respirators are thicker than surgical masks and are fitted to a person’s face to keep out any viral particles.”

For more information from the Centers for Disease Control, click here.

Jessica Zorker & Kelsea Miller with Cronkite News contributed reporting to this story. 

Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video stream of the governor’s press conference and a live video stream of the March 2 Decatur City Commission meeting. 

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