Beginning Monday, Georgia Southern University and all University System of Georgia institutions will temporarily suspend instruction for two weeks to assess the current situation regarding coronavirus in Georgia.
While 42 cases of COVID-19 — coronavirus — have been diagnosed in Georgia as of Friday afternoon, only one is south of Atlanta and none near the Bulloch County area.
In a University Alert sent out Thursday afternoon, the two-week suspension was announced to allow time for all system colleges and universities to test and adjust plans to both continue campus operations and study the online instruction modules for all courses.
Spring break begins Monday at Georgia Southern, and the alert reads: "Students who are currently on spring break are strongly encouraged not to return to campus. Students on campus are asked to depart campus by close of business Friday, March 13, 2020, and to remain away from campus until March 29, 2020.
"At this time, students are not being asked to move out of their dorms for the remainder of the semester."
For students who are unable to leave campus, the University System is asking Georgia Southern and all campuses to "to safely accommodate those students on campus."
East Georgia State College, a University System of Georgia institution, will follow the same guidelines as Georgia Southern and suspend instruction for the next two weeks.
Ogeechee Technical College also is on spring break and announced Thursday afternoon that the college will not suspend classes at this time, according to Sean Payne, executive director for public relations and marketing. Payne said college officials will continue to assess the situation and make any adjustments and announcements, as needed.
However, Payne said adult education classes in Bulloch, Evans and Screven counties have been canceled for all of next week. The closing includes classes taught at the college's instructional centers and offsite locations. Also, new student orientations scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were canceled. This applies to orientations in Bulloch, Evans and Screven counties.
Bulloch County Schools
At this point, Bulloch County Schools will remain open, according to Hayley Greene, public relations director for the school system.
"This is a rapidly evolving situation, so we will continuously monitor any new information as it is made available and act appropriately," said Charles Wilson, superintendent for Bulloch County Schools. "Our priority is the safety of our students and staff, as well as maintaining our focus on effective instruction."
Greene did say that restrictions have been put into place to limit travel and events outside of the county, including employee work-related travel, as well as student trips.
While Gov. Brian Kemp said on Thursday that school districts and day care centers should consider closing for two weeks, he stressed that any decisions to close schools are a local one. "We encourage all families to be prepared, manage your individual situations and act reasonably and responsibly," Greene said.
Bulloch Academy also sent out a notice to the families of all its students that the school will not close at this time, but that administrators are closely monitoring the situation.
"We do not currently have plans to cancel, however, we will heed the advice of our national, state and local agencies regarding this matter," the notice stated.
In the area, Evans County and Tattnall County schools announced they would close for the next two weeks.
Georgia man dies
In Georgia, a 67-year-old man who was hospitalized became the state's first death from coronavirus, Kemp announced Thursday.
The man tested positive for the virus March 7 and was hospitalized at WellStar Kennestone, according to the governor.
Kemp said the man had "underlying medical conditions," but he did not say what they were or how the man may have contracted the illness.
The state will expand its capacity to 100 tests a day by the end of next week, and officials think more commercial labs will offer the test as well, she said. The goal is to have a network of testing sites around the state that are not affiliated with hospitals or health departments, she said.
Nationally, President Trump announced Friday afternoon that he is declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. He said the emergency would open up nearly $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak.
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 vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.
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.