Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional details.
Two people who live in the same household in Fulton County are the first in Georgia to test positive for the new coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp and state officials announced Monday evening at a hastily arranged press conference.
The two showed symptoms of the illness shortly after one of the people returned to Georgia from a trip to the northern Italian city of Milan, officials said.
» THE LATEST: Complete coverage of coronavirus in Georgia
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, head of the state’s public health department, said the patient who recently traveled to Italy detected the illness quickly, and “astutely” consulted medical officials. She described the symptoms as “mild.”
“I want to reassure you that they’re at home, in home isolation with other household members, with minimal symptoms so they’re not hospitalized,” she said.
State health officials have long braced for the possibility of local cases of the virus, which has infected nearly 90,000 people worldwide. More than 90 confirmed cases of the disease have been reported in the U.S., including six fatalities, as the virus spreads despite efforts to contain it.
“Georgians should remain calm,” Kemp said. “We were ready for today.”
The illness, known as COVID-19, is characterized by fever and coughing and, sometimes, pneumonia and shortness of breath. Most of the cases have been in China, where roughly 80,000 have been sickened and at least 2,800 people have died.
But it continues to spread globally and the total of confirmed cases outside of China has surpassed 7,000 cases in 58 countries. Flights have been canceled, travelers have been quarantined and lives turned upside down.
The governor urged people who are exhibiting symptoms to call their medical provider, which “is exactly what happened in this case.”
Officials said the patient who returned from Italy alerted a clinician of symptoms, was kept from the medical facility’s waiting room and submitted a specimen that the CDC tested on Saturday. The results were returned Monday evening, officials said.
State health officials said they are not providing details about the couple, including their names, ages or flight information, to protect their privacy.
MORE: What to do to protect yourself from coronavirus in Georgia
A testing glitch
Kemp on Friday named a task force made up of several of his administration’s top deputies, along with health and school officials, to identify the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Georgia.
And President Donald Trump is set to visit the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday as he tries to calm growing fears about the outbreak. He's also issued new restrictions on foreign travel and warned that additional cases of the illness are "likely."
The virus has already disrupted lives in Georgia.
More than 1,000 travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport, have been screened for the illness. Metro Atlanta school districts have sent emails to parents encouraging hygiene and warning of potential contingency plans should it become necessary to temporarily close.
The Georgia Department of Public Health hasn’t disclosed the number of people in Georgia tested for coronavirus.
For more coverage: Special section on coronavirus in Georgia
Until now, self-quarantines in Georgia have only applied to residents who recently traveled to China. Toomey said state health officials were not receiving lists of passengers from other countries including Italy. But she said authorities are working diligently to identify those who might have been in contact with the two people testing positive for the virus in Atlanta.
Toomey said the risk to those in Georgia remains low, but said she expects to see more cases.
The state’s efforts to test for the disease have been complicated by a major glitch in testing. The Georgia Public Health Lab recently received a flawed diagnostic kit from federal officials, meaning that all testing must be at the CDC.
The agency is awaiting new test kits from the CDC, said state health department spokeswoman Nancy Nydam, and it should soon be able to conduct a quality assessment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also said it will allow hundreds of labs to test for the virus.
The CDC has also expanded guidelines for coronavirus testing to include people with symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath coupled with travel not only to China but also other high-risk areas including Italy, Iran, and South Korea.
The governor said he briefed Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s response to the disease, about Georgia’s two cases.
“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said. “This is not something we’re just now thinking about.”
Credit: Family photo