Georgia’s first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus infection have been found in two Fulton County residents, according to Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials.

The risk to the general public is “low at this time,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, in press release that announced the local COVID-19 infections late on March 2.

The two residents have “mild symptoms,” live in the same household, and are in isolation with other family members, according to the press release. The residents were not identified, nor was their city of residence within the county. Fulton is Georgia’s most populous county and runs more than 50 miles north to south, encompassing several cities, including most of Atlanta and all of Sandy Springs, among others.

One of the infected Fulton residents recently traveled to Italy, where 2,036 people had tested positive for the virus and 52 had died as of March 2, according to a Reuters news report.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. (Special)

“We knew that Georgia would likely have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and we planned for it,” said Toomey in the press release. “The immediate risk of COVID-19 to the general public, however, remains low at this time.”

Kemp said in the press release that he has formed a state Coronavirus Task Force and has spoken with Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the Trump administration’s national response to COVID-19.

“Our team has been working around the clock to prepare for any scenario,” Kemp said in the press release. “Already, state health officials have established contact with these individuals [infected in Fulton] to gather more information, monitor their condition, and determine any exposure. 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.”

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus. It was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December and has since spread to many other countries around the world. According to the World Health Organization, as of March 2, there were about 89,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, the vast majority within China. So far, 3,043 people are confirmed to have died from the disease globally, with 128 of those outside of China.

There is not yet a vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though several vaccines are in development. Most people infected with the disease have no or mild symptoms, but it can be fatal, especially by causing pneumonia.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 appears to spread person-to-person. It remains unclear how contagious it is and exactly how it spreads, according to the CDC. It is believed to spread as a respiratory disease when an infected person sneezes, coughs or touches a surface after touching their nose or mouth, according to state officials.

How to prevent infection

Toomey urged all Georgians to take basic precautions that help to prevent many infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Those basics, as described by Toomey and the CDC, include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching 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 frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Get a flu shot. The vaccine against the seasonal flu will not prevent COVID-19, but could prevent “serious complications” and “overburdening of the health care system” if there is a COVID-19 outbreak here, according to the state press release.

Similar tips were given in a recent Reporter Extra podcast by Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, an infectious disease expert with the CDC and a Buckhead resident. To listen to that episode, click here.

Symptoms and testing

The CDC offers some basic tips about COVID-19’s symptoms and testing. The initial symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to many other, common respiratory illnesses and include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, according to the CDC. Anyone with those symptoms who also either lives in or has traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading with the previous 14 days should contact their doctor or other healthcare provider about a safe way to be tested for the disease without exposing other people. Do not go to the doctor, hospital or other medical facility without calling ahead for that advice. Limit your exposure to anyone else.

The latest information

The COVID-19 situation globally and the scientific understanding of the virus is changing rapidly. For official updates and extensive information, see the CDC’s website at CDC.gov.