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Coronavirus cases rise in Georgia
None reported locally; GS taking voluntary steps
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

With the coronavirus officially declared a pandemic Wednesday by the World Health Organization, Georgia officials announced five more presumed cases of the virus, lifting the state total to 22 confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19. Cobb County has the most cases — seven.

No cases have been reported in Statesboro or Bulloch County, but local officials continue to urge residents to take reasonable precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

Also, Georgia Southern University, in a statement released to the university community Wednesday afternoon, read: "There are no suspected cases of coronavirus, and Georgia Southern has not been notified that any member of the campus community is suspected of having the virus or being in contact with anyone who has the virus."

However, in the statement given to the Herald by Jennifer Wise, GS director of communications, the university is asking students, faculty and staff to voluntarily register any upcoming travel plans for spring break, which begins Friday after classes, or any other reason.

"This will allow us to communicate directly with travelers and to provide guidance to ensure that your safety is top priority if you have visited an area that is named an area of concern by the CDC," the statement said.

Dozens of colleges and universities around the nation have elected to close all classrooms and conduct online classes only in response to the virus. So far, the University System of Georgia has not directed Georgia Southern or any other state college to close classrooms.

"There remains no current guidance from the state that we need to cancel classes, close the university, or cancel large gatherings of any kind," the statement from Georgia Southern said. "If anything changes with regards to the operational status of our campuses, we will update the university community as soon as possible."

But, according to the statement, Georgia Southern is taking some preliminary steps with regards to COVID-19 in case more action is necessary in the future.

"Though we are not directing classes to move online, we do ask that faculty keep coursework up to date on our online education platform — Folio, and keep our campuses' wellbeing in mind when students request not to attend class due to illness. Folio is designed to let students continue their instruction," even when they are not in class.

Georgia mirrors nation

The increase in coronavirus patients in Georgia mirrors the national trend. Nationally, there are more than 1,000 patients diagnosed with coronavirus, and more than 30 deaths — most of them in Washington state. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,300 have died.

The surge of cases in the United States comes as testing ramps up in Georgia and across the country. A problem with the original CDC testing kits delayed diagnostic testing capacity for weeks.

"We're definitely going to see more cases in Georgia," Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters Monday at a news conference. 

On Wednesday, Kemp took the extraordinary step of asking state lawmakers to approve $100 million in additional funding to help the state combat the virus.

The money would be pulled from state reserves and would be used for preparedness and response efforts, according to a letter from Kemp to House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Ralston said he "fully supports" Kemp's request.

▲ The Fulton County school district remains closed Wednesday after a teacher tested positive for the disease Monday.

▲ A Cherokee County man with coronavirus has been transferred to Hard Labor Creek State Park, 50 miles east of Atlanta, which state officials have prepared for isolating coronavirus patients. 

"The individual was not able to isolate at their primary residence and was not in critical condition requiring any hospital admittance," the Governor's Office said.

▲ Some passengers from a cruise ship in California that carried people infected by the new coronavirus have arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta to begin a two-week quarantine, military officials said.

▲ A worker at a Georgia Waffle House tested positive for COVID-19, prompting co-workers to quarantine themselves in their homes, WABE reported. None of the co-workers from the restaurant in the Canton area, northwest of Atlanta, have shown any signs of illness, the company said in a statement.

▲ Savannah-area nursing homes and assisted-living communities are taking stringent steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus among their elderly residents — who are considered most at-risk of contracting lethal cases of the virus. The measures include the restriction of guest visits, the Savannah Morning News reported.

From Public Health

The overall risk of COVID-19 to the general public remains low, although elderly people and individuals with chronic medical conditions may have an increased risk of suffering serious effects from COVID-19. The best prevention measures for any respiratory virus are:

▲ 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.

▲ 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.

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