FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Gov. Brian Kemp announced late March 2 that Georgia’s first cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, have been confirmed.
Two Fulton County residents who live in the same household were the first Georgians to be diagnosed. One recently returned from Italy, which has the most serious outbreak outside of Asia, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported the two infected individuals have mild symptoms and are isolated at their home. The department is working to identify anyone who may have been exposed while the individuals were infectious.
“COVID-19 continues to present a low risk for most Americans, but we must remain vigilant for medically fragile populations, including the elderly and those with existing health conditions,” Kemp said.
The coronavirus spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.
General best practices for avoiding a cold or flu —like washing hands frequently — also protect against the coronavirus. Health officials also recommend getting a flu shot if you have not already. While the flu shot will not protect against COVID-19, it will prevent complications in the event of an outbreak.
George Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said that Georgia’s first confirmed case sets an example for how someone suspected to have COVID-19 should act.
“This individual had traveled to Italy, recognized there was a potential risk for themselves and their household members and contacted the physician ahead of time, so that they would not put any of the patients at the practice at risk,” Toomey said. “I suspect we’ll see other cases, and I hope that all of them go as smoothly as this did.”
The clinician had the patients use a side entrance to keep them separate from other patients and immediately contacted the state health department, Toomey said, demonstrating that the system is working as it should.
“We knew that Georgia would likely have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and we planned for it,” Toomey said. “The immediate risk of COVID-19 to the general public, however, remains low at this time.”
The virus COVID-19 is linked to an outbreak in Wuhan, China. The countries with the most widespread transmission are China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and Japan. The CDC recommends avoiding nonessential travel to these countries.
“We are monitoring this situation closely as it begins to impact the United States, and my prayers go out to those who have already been impacted by this disease,” U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath said in a statement. “It is important that we work together as Americans and do our part to keep our families healthy, and it is critical that we fully address the scale and seriousness of this disease.”
Fulton County releases additional details
On March 3, Fulton County held a press conference and revealed more details about the confirmed cases: A 56-year-old man traveled from a conference in Milan, Italy to Amsterdam, to Hartfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta on Feb. 22. He was asymptomatic at the time, and health officials think he did not present a risk to other travelers, Interim Fulton County Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Ford said.
By Feb. 25, he began displaying symptoms, as did his son on Feb. 27. Both patients are now showing little to no symptoms but are still being monitored. His spouse and younger child are also being tested.
Both children are homeschooled, so there is likely little risk to the school systems at this time, Ford said, though an investigation into who may have been exposed is still underway. Details about where in Fulton County the patients live and work were not released to protect their privacy.
Ford said this appears to be an under-control, travel-related incident and not cause for fear.
“We’re trying to create prevention messaging, not panic messaging,” she said.
Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts reassured the public that there are plans in place and that the county is coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and the state health department.
“My main message is for the citizens of Fulton County is to remain calm and follow instructions, as we will be following instructions,” Pitts said.