Update, March 13: Find the latest information on number of coronavirus cases.
Update, 10 p.m. March 9: Georgia has six confirmed cases of coronavirus in Fulton, Floyd, Polk and Cobb counties, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. There are 11 presumptive positive cases in Fulton, Cobb, Fayette, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties. The state is awaiting confirmatory testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those cases.
Update: According to the Department of Public Health, 11 Georgia residents have now tested positive for the COVID-19, with five tests federally confirmed.
Update, March 9: The Georgia Department of Public Health is awaiting confirmatory testing on four new presumptive positive tests for coronavirus in Georgia residents.
One person is from Fulton County, another is from Cherokee County, and the other two people are from Cobb County, but they have no connection to each other, according to the department. It is unknown how they got infected.
Testing was completed Sunday, March 8, at the Georgia Public Health Laboratory, and the results have been submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for verification.
There are now six presumptive positives pending confirmatory testing by CDC, and five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Georgia.
Update, 8 p.m. March 7: The Georgia Department of Public Health is awaiting possible confirmation on a presumptive positive test for coronavirus in a resident of Fulton County. Initial testing was done Saturday, March 7, at the Georgia Public Health Laboratory. The person is hospitalized, and it is not known how the person got the virus, according to a statement from the Department of Public Health.
There are five confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Georgia – three in Fulton County, one in Polk County, which was previously reported by the Department of Public Health as in Floyd County, and one in Cobb County.
A test by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still pending for a person in Gwinnett County.
Update, March 7: The Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed additional cases of the novel coronavirus in Georgia.
The Department of Public Health is waiting on confirmation from the CDC about a person in Gwinnett County who is presumed to have the virus. Initial testing was done by the Georgia Public Health Lab Friday, March 6. The person in Gwinnett recently returned from Italy and is now isolated at home.
Two additional cases in Georgia have been confirmed by the CDC and Department of Public Health. One person is from Cobb County and recently returned from Italy and is isolated at home. The other person is from Fulton County and is hospitalized. It is still unclear how the person from Fulton got the virus.
CDC testing has also confirmed a resident of Floyd County, who is hospitalized, has the virus. The state had done initial testing for the patient on March 5.
“Despite these new cases, the overall risk of COVID-19 to the general public remains low, but each new case of COVID-19 in Georgia reinforces the fact we should all be practicing basic prevention measures that are extremely effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and all respiratory illnesses,” Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
The Department of Public Health recommends these prevention measures:
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.
Do not touch 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 objects and surfaces you touch frequently.
Previous story: Two cases of the novel coronavirus have been identified in Georgia, both in Fulton County, and local health care professionals are working to educate the public about the virus.
The global mortality rate of the virus has been about 2 to 2.5%, although risks are higher for elderly patients or those who have other chronic illnesses. More than 80% of coronavirus patients have mild, flu-like symptoms, according to Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, medical director of Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Infectious Disease.
Along with statewide task forces, the Northeast Georgia Health System has convened a local task force to help the medical system prepare should the virus make its way to Hall County and North Georgia.
The coronavirus is also much less common than the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country has seen about 32 to 45 million cases of the flu this season, as of the end of February. There have been 105 coronavirus cases in the U.S. The CDC estimates there have been about 18,000 to 46,00 flu deaths this season, through Feb. 22.
According to the CDC, symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure and can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The CDC recommends calling a health care professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as a cough or difficulty breathing, and have been in contact with a person known to have coronavirus or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread. Keep health care professionals informed about recent travel or contact.
“If you have a fever, don’t go to work and avoid public places. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, we advise calling your health care provider to describe your symptoms and ask their advice,” Mannepalli said. “If they recommend you leave home for treatment, wear a mask and use hand sanitizer.”
NGPG offers e-visits online if a patient would prefer not to leave their home.
Visiting guidelines for NGHS hospitals are now limited to two visitors at a time for each patient. All visitors must be 12 years old or older, and anyone with respiratory illness symptoms like fever, cough or difficulty breathing is asked to stay home.
The health system is limiting staff’s travel to international areas identified by the CDC.
NGPG offices have not yet seen a significant uptick in visits, Mannepalli said.
“We haven’t seen any change that’s out of the ordinary for a typical flu season – which is still prevalent across our area right now,” she said.
The Hall County Emergency Management Agency is also taking precautions, and EMA Director Casey Ramsey said the county is entering the “preparedness phase” of its Local Emergency Operations Plan.
County officials have been communicating with employees and the public about stopping the spread of germs, and a flyer from the CDC will be posted at county facilities and on the county’s website and social media, Ramsey said.
“Hall County crews have increased their efforts in sanitizing county facilities on a frequent and consistent basis — paying particular attention to areas most used by the public,” Ramsey said in an email. “The preparedness phase also includes reviewing continuity of operations plans so that the county government can maintain essential services should the illness affect a large number of our workforce.”
Also, the county’s purchasing division is reviewing its supplies to make sure the essentials are stocked in case the outbreak affects Hall.
“These steps are being taken out of an abundance of caution and as proactive measures,” Ramsey said.
The two cases in Fulton County are in a single household. One of the members of the household had recently returned from Milan, Italy, which is dealing with a severe outbreak of the virus. Fulton County includes much of Atlanta and some of its northern suburbs, and the county is southwest of Hall County.
Mannepalli said in a statement that people should practice good hygiene, including washing hands for at least 20 seconds and covering their mouth when they cough and sneeze. If someone coughs or sneezes, they should then wash their hands or use sanitizer.
However, if you are not sick, a face mask should not be necessary to protect yourself.
“Certain models of professional, tight-fitting respirators — such as N95 respirators — can protect health care workers while caring for patients with certain infections. Health care workers are fit tested for these masks annually and are trained to use them properly,” Mannepalli said. “Additionally, if people stockpile masks at their homes out of concern, they could inadvertently prevent health care facilities from getting the supplies they need for ill patients and the staff treating those patients.”
The CDC does recommend wearing a mask if you are sick to help prevent the spread of the virus.
And while antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, there is no evidence to support the use of them to treat the coronavirus, Mannepalli said.
“Unnecessary antibiotic use can lead to the development of resistant bacteria and other complications,” she said.
While NGHS is not able to test for the virus, the system can coordinate testing through the Georgia Department of Public Health, Mannepalli said.
The Associated Press and features editor Nick Bowman contributed to this report.