Officials prep for possible coronavirus cases

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp confirmed Monday there are two cases of COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus disease 2019, in the state on Monday night.

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that can spread from person-to-person with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Center for Disease Control. A news release from governor’s office said the virus has affected two people from Fulton County within the same home who have recently returned from Italy.

Local health professionals have started to urge people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer between hand washes, avoid handshakes and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

Dr. Kenneth Todd Horlander, pulmonologist at Emory Healthcare, said he hasn’t seen any patients with a combination of the symptoms, travel or contact with potential victims, but people are asking questions about it.

“Right now, it seems like everybody has a cough,” he said. “There are a lot of allergies and basic cold viruses going around. People are used to it, but we also have people who are asking questions.”

Horlander said unless patients have traveled to certain areas like Italy, China or Korea, or have contacted somebody who has traveled with the symptoms, there’s less concern that the patient has the virus. He said medical professionals have been directed by the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC that if someone comes in with the symptoms and travel history to treat them like they have the disease, give them a mask and keep them away from others.

From there, doctors are directed to call the public health department and then there will be a decision made to test the patient. The department of public health is doing the testing, according to Horlander. He said Emory doesn’t have the testing capabilities on site.

Horlander said there is a raised awareness right now in the medical community and the virus is being researched heavily.

“We are keeping ourselves educated by the AMA (American Medical Association), CDC and the public health department,” he said.

Patricia Rodgers, Public Relations specialist at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, said there hasn’t been a patient presenting the symptoms or meeting the criteria for COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

However, she said a patient could be treated at the medical center for the virus. If there was a case confirmed by the CDC, the public would be notified through a statement from the medical center as required by state and federal guidelines.

Michelle McMickin, director of Infection Prevention at WellStar, said according to the CDC, the people most at risk are the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions like heart and lung diseases or diabetes. She said the only people that should be wearing face masks are the those who are sick or caring for somebody who is sick.

“Most don’t effectively block droplets that carry viruses,” she said in a news release.

She said the virus can be transmitted from person-to-person through tiny droplets, such as coughs or sneezes.

“Symptoms are not very specific,” McMickin said. “First, they can seem similar to a cold or the flu, such as fever, cough, sore throat or difficulty breathing. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been around an infected person or traveled to an affected area like China, South Korea, Italy or Iran, call your doctor.”

LaGrange College’s 3D Journey’s trip is scheduled to visit the Swiss Alps and Northern Italy from April 28 through May 9. Martha Pirkle, director of Alumni and Community Relations, said the college is closely monitoring the travel situation with the partnering travel agent.

“With the situation continuing to change constantly, we do not yet have a complete understanding of our options at this time,” she said.

The college released a statement saying it is monitoring the situation closely and officials are meeting regularly to review and update the college’s emergency preparedness, pandemic response and business continuity plans as well as constantly monitoring travel advisories.

Auburn University is recalling all of its travel abroad students and suspending all official international travel for students, faculty and staff until further notice given the global outbreak of COVID-19. Auburn officials report taking this action out of an abundance of caution for safety and following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Auburn has also temporarily suspending all university travel to Italy and Iran, adding to the list that already includes South Korea and China, due to the coronavirus. This includes official travel for students, faculty and staff.

The Troup County School System also released a statement saying it is tracking the news of the virus. The school system said there are no confirmed cases of the virus in the school system. However, the district said it’s important to actively monitor the situation and share information as it becomes available with parents.

“Again, at this point, there are no known cases of the virus in Troup County. We are aware of the concerns from our community, and we want to take this opportunity to share with you that we are implementing a communication plan, convening a crisis team to develop actionable plans (if needed), and educating staff and families on steps that will help prevent the spread of the virus,” a statement from TCSS said. “We are working closely with the local Department of Health and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization’s recommendations to prevent any infection of a respiratory virus. We ask that you do the same in your spheres of influence.”

There has been a total of 60 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. with a total of six deaths reported by the CDC. A total of 12 states have reported confirmed cases since Jan. 21. The CDC says 22 of those cases are travel-related, 11 have been spread from person-to-person and 27 are still under investigation.

Kemp said the state’s public health teams have been working around the clock for all scenarios.

“Already, state health officials have established contact with these individuals to gather more information, monitor their condition, and determine any exposure,” Kemp said in a news release. “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.”

Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen E. Toomey said the office knew it was likely there would be confirmed cases in Georgia and the immediate risk of the virus to the general public remains low.

“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,” she said.

The state public health department recommends the following best practices:

  • Washing hands often with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
  • Stay home when sick;
  • Cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash; and
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The CDC is urging anybody who has been in China within the past 14 days and feels sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing to seek medical care. While there isn’t a current vaccine or antiviral treatment for the virus, medical professional will give instructions on how to get care without exposing other people.