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Georgia Department of Public Health is preparing for a possible coronavirus outbreak

By Elaine Owen, Editor

The Georgia Department of Public Health says it is working closely with the CDC, and state partners to prepare for a potential outbreak of coronavirus in the U.S., including Georgia.

The goal is to quickly identify cases of coronavirus and take the appropriate public health action to reduce its spread and protect the general public.

Health officials say they want to make clear that at this time, the overall risk of coronavirus to the public remains low.

“We urge Georgians to prepare for hurricanes or flooding or take measures to prevent flu, so preparing for an outbreak of COVID-19 is no different,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., DPH commissioner. “DPH is working to make sure our health systems, first responders and county health departments have the resources they need to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak.”

The department already has a detailed pandemic flu plan that was developed in partnership with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Department of Education and other state agencies, and will be adapted for a coronavirus outbreak in the state.

Department of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response is providing CDC information and guidance about coronavirus to all health care and hospital facilities throughout Georgia, and holding weekly calls with the entire public health and hospital community to update information and answer questions.

If an outbreak does occur, health officials may recommend certain measures for affected communities, such as temporary closure of child care facilities and schools, colleges and universities, school and workplace social distancing measures, and postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings. Additionally, businesses should consider ways to implement strategies to reduce the impact of a potential coronavirus outbreak on their workforce, including teleworking and cross-training employees on essential job functions.

The same measures that are urged to prevent the spread of any respiratory virus are increasingly important for all Georgians to avoid the spread of coronavirus:

● 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 best prevention against the flu is vaccination. Flu is still widespread and active in Georgia – it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

Passenger screening at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport is ongoing. This is to identify people coming from China who may have been exposed to and are at risk of developing coronavirus, and to provide appropriate assessment and monitoring to protect the general public.

Coronavirus is rapidly evolving and guidance is subject to change. The preparations underway in Georgia are based on the best scientific information from the CDC.

From Georgia Health News:
The Georgia Public Health Lab recently received a diagnostic test kit from the CDC for COVID-19 (the name for the new coronavirus), but like those sent to other states, its components were flawed.

“We are waiting on new components from CDC, once we get them it will take about a week to do quality assessment and quality control to be sure everything works as it should,’’ said Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health.

The second challenge – at least potentially – is funding. No special state funds have been allocated to fight COVID-19. The White House, though, has submitted a funding request to Congress. The federal funding is expected to go to additional testing capacity to identify cases, development of a vaccine and treatments for the disease, more personal protective equipment, and money for states to quarantine people and treat cases, officials said.

The Department of Public Health is confronting state budget cuts that are expected to impact local health agencies. But a spokesman for Gov. Brian Kemp, Cody Hall, said that budget reductions “do not in any way affect the Department’s ability to respond to a potential coronavirus case here in Georgia. If any emergency were to arise, the Department has a comprehensive plan in place to protect the public with significant state and federal funds at their disposal.”

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