What you need to know about coronavirus if you live in Georgia

The new coronavirus virus, officially named COVID-19, emerged in late December as a cluster of pneumonia-like cases linked to a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, located in China’s Hubei province. Since then, the numbers have been growing dramatically every day. A global public health emergency was declared last month.

The vast majority of cases are in China, where the number of confirmed cases has surpassed 80,000 with over 2,650 deaths. It continues to spread globally in 33 countries. As of Feb. 25, there were 2,459 cases outside of China.

»THE LATEST: Complete coverage of coronavirus in Georgia

The U.S. now has 60 coronavirus cases, most of them passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Are there any cases in Georgia? 

Yes, as of Saturday, March 7, there are five confirmed cases in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. They include individuals who live in Fulton County with at least one of them recently traveling to northern Italy and spreading the virus to another person living in the same household.

CORONAVIRUS TIPS

CDC recommends preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• 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 using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

• CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

• If you are concerned you might have the coronavirus, call your healthcare provider before going to a hospital or clinic. In mild cases, your doctor might give you advice on how to treat symptoms at home without seeing you in person, which would reduce the number of people you expose. But in more severe cases an urgent care center or hospital would benefit from advance warning because they can prepare for your arrival. For example, they may want you to enter a special entrance, so you don’t expose others.

Source: CDC

There are hundreds of people quarantining themselves at home, including 200 Georgia residents confined to their homes after returning from recent trips to China.

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What are U.S. and Georgia authorities doing to contain coronavirus? 

On Feb. 2, the U.S. began quarantining Americans who had recently visited China’s Hubei province, where the disease originated. The federal government is also requiring screening and self-quarantines for all other Americans who recently visited any other parts of China. There are no recent travelers to Hubei province being quarantined in Georgia.

Local health officials and hospitals are on high alert. Hospitals are asking sick patients about travel histories and have quarantine areas in place. Local experts say Georgia’s screening, training and preparations to treat emerging diseases are better than ever, driven by concerns about other infections, such as Ebola and SARS, another coronavirus. Curtis Harris, the director of the University of Georgia’s Institute for Disaster Management, said Georgia hospitals and other health care facilities have developed plans to accommodate sudden increases in the number of patients seeking care.

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How worried should I be? 

A coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is not a question of “if” but “when,” officials with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

“The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving and spreading,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Cases are appearing worldwide without a known source of exposure, and successful containment at U.S. borders is becoming problematic.

Public health officials said they no idea whether the spread of the disease to the United States would be mild or severe, but they said Americans should be prepared for a major disruption to their daily lives.

MORE: Coronavirus outbreak in US. Not 'if' but 'when,' CDC says

How do I keep myself and others safe?

The most effective way to protect against coronavirus is the same as the flu — wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your nose and mouth and stay away from sick people.

Face masks are critical for health care workers but otherwise only recommended for people who have COVID-19 or are showing symptoms to prevent the spread. Those cheap disposable masks, which cover the nose and mouth, often don’t fit properly and are far from fool-proof.

How does the coronavirus compare to other illnesses? 

There are still many unknowns about COVID-19 but preliminary figures suggest the fatality rate is about 3%, much less than its cousin, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which killed about 10% of infected patients during the 2003 outbreak.

The SARS epidemic, which also began in China, killed 774 people worldwide. There was a total of eight cases in the U.S. and none in Georgia.

COVID-19 is considered far worse than the season flu which kills about 1 in 1,000 people.

With COVID 19, most people will experience mild symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. Children and young adults, for example, are likely to experience mild illness from COVID-19. Older adults, and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to experience complications such as pneumonia.

What else should I do?

Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and a prominent infectious disease specialist, recommends caution for older adults, particularly those over 60. And if you are over 60 and also have an underlying health condition "doubley so," he said. For those in high risk categories, he recommends they "should be thinking about seriously social distancing" to lower the risk of exposure and getting sick with COVID-19.

He recommended considering everything from worshiping at home, watching TV at home instead of the movies, and avoiding all non-essential travel.

"I know you can't become a hermit," he said."But there are things you can do to more thoughtfully do to reduce non-essential contact with groups of people."

Other recommendations: 

Dr. José Cordero, the department head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at UGA, added it’s a good idea to get a flu shot — if you haven’t already — to avoid illness and using up medical resources. He recommended families and friends discuss emergency contingency plans for helping each other with everything from child care to meal sharing. And, he added, it may be sensible to have a couple weeks to a month’s worth of food supplies.

Experts also say most people who get the virus would not need to go to a doctor. They also urge people identify reliable sources of information, such as the CDC and state departments of public health.

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