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As flu season nears, DeKalb County officials warn residents to stay vigilant

COVID-19 Metro ATL

As flu season nears, DeKalb County officials warn residents to stay vigilant

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FILE PHOTO USED FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES: Certified Nursing Assistant Ronnalynn Collins smiles from behind her protective mask and shield in downtown Decatur on July 31, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.


By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

Decatur, GA — A DeKalb County Board of Health official on Sept. 8 cautioned residents of a fatal triple threat: Covid-19, the flu, and West Nile Virus.

Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, DeKalb Board of Health director, presented data to the DeKalb County Commission on testing, tracing, demographics, and rate of infection.

Stressing the importance of COVID-19 testing, she said all three viruses have similar symptoms. West Nile Virus resembles COVID-19 for the first few days until neurologic symptoms begin, she said. Signs of the flu and COVID-19 are fever, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, congestion, muscle aches, headache, and gastrointestinal distress.

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“I am so concerned about what flu is going to do to COVID, because for the first 72 hours they look pretty much exactly the same. We want to make sure we can test for flu and know who’s got which so that we can isolate and separate folks accordingly,” said Ford. “It’s going to be a real challenge to know which is which.”

The first case of West Nile virus this year was reported in greater Decatur in late August. According to the CDC, eight out of 10 people infected show no signs. West Nile Virus symptoms can include headache, body aches, gastrointestinal distress, or rash.

In addition to drive-thru test sites, the county currently uses mobile health vans. More are due to arrive by the end of the year to aid in food distribution and roaming health clinics.

Ford said, “We will have telehealth hookups that will connect the van with physicians or clinicians at health centers so that we can provide care from a distance. Our model has shifted dramatically due to COVID from the in-house service to really getting into the community and taking the services where they’re most needed.”

Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, who serves on DeKalb’s COVID-19 Task Force, said the vans will be hybrid units allow for testing beyond just COVID-19. Stressing education for the flu vaccine, she asked commissioners to launch a marketing campaign, “as we are facing a global pandemic.”

Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson agreed that a marketing campaign for the flu shot is crucial, stating she is willing to spend from her budget in support.

“I don’t want people to get a false comfort in that we are doing good, and that the cases are going down, when we really can’t verify those cases going through the White House… The president is saying every day, ‘Limit testing. We don’t need testing.’ He’s not wearing a mask. I just don’t want us to be comfortable in those numbers, because I would feel more comfortable if the CDC was putting out those figures rather than the White House,” said Davis Johnson.

Ford clarified DeKalb Board of Health publishes its own data.

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To date, DeKalb County has administered 86,000 Covid-19 tests at 14 sites, which makes the county number 2 in Georgia for tests collected. DeKalb has collected 9.3 percent of the state’s total testing, yet have only six percent of the state’s positive cases, said Ford.

“What’s troubling to us is the significant proportion of the cases that are less than 29 years of age,” Ford said. “Over 30 percent of the cases in DeKalb County positive for COVID are to folks less than 29 years of age; 58.7 percent of those cases are to people less than 44. We are definitely skewing to a much younger demographic.”

DeKalb County COO Zach Williams said, “DeKalb County and CEO Thurmond has been crystal clear and vigilant that we are going to continue to aggressively get the word out, aggressively inform our residents and our businesses, that the fight is far from over. We have not won. The fact is that over 6 million Americans that we are aware of who have been infected. We have had the infections not only in DeKalb, but ultimately, we’ve had death.”

He added, “Don’t be overly influenced by what the data seems to show. Keep your guard up. Wear a mask. Social distance. Do not believe for one moment that this is over.”

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