Close to 200 Georgia residents are being monitored for coronavirus

Nearly 200 Georgia residents are quarantined in their homes after returning from recent trips to China, where a deadly new coronavirus has sickened more than 40,000 people.

So far, Georgia authorities said Tuesday, none of the Georgia residents has shown symptoms of the virus. And none visited China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak. They are sequestered because they traveled to other parts of that country, where the virus is also spreading rapidly.

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Georgia authorities were avoiding using the word quarantine, saying instead that people are being isolated in their homes for 14 days, the illness’ incubation period. However, the term is used in a February 2 directive from the Trump administration that calls for U.S. citizens returning home from visits to the Hubei province to be quarantined and those returning from other parts to China to undergo “proactive entry screening” and up to 14 days of monitoring and self-quarantine.

In China, more than 1,000 people have died of the virus. There has been one death outside of that country, but 393 people in 24 nations have fallen ill, according to the World Health Organization.

The outbreak started in December as a cluster of pneumonia-like cases linked to a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people. Since then, the number of diagnoses has been soaring. A global public health emergency was declared last month.

Thirteen cases have been confirmed in the United States, none in Georgia.

However, Reuters reported Tuesday that an Atlanta couple, identified as Renee and Clyde Smith, tested positive for the coronavirus and are hospitalized in Japan. The Smith were passengers — along with at least two family members — aboard a cruise ship that has been tied up at the quay in Yokohama south of Tokyo for nearly a week, the news service reported.

Georgia Department of Public Health epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek said U.S. Customs and Border Protection started reviewing airline passengers’ itineraries and passports after the travel restrictions were instituted earlier this month. All commercial passenger flights between Atlanta and China have been temporarily suspended. But the federal agency is providing the Georgia Department of Public Health with the names of state residents who have recently traveled to China, but flew back to the U.S. from other countries, such as Germany or England.

Georgia health officials have been calling each traveler to discuss the required, 14-day period of staying home and stressed the importance of notifying authorities of any potential symptoms of the virus. Those under quarantine were all given an online tool that tracks their time in isolation and notifies them when the required confinement time is over.

If any of them show symptoms or test positive for the coronavirus, they will be immediately hospitalized in a special, quarantined area, public health officials said.

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Local experts say Georgia’s screening, training and preparations to treat emerging diseases are better than ever, driven by concerns about infections, such as Ebola and SARS, another coronavirus.

Dr. Aneesh Mehta, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, pointed to three principles — identifying those who might have been exposed to viruses, isolating them, and informing medical staff and other health officials.

Late last year, health care organizations and officials across seven Southeastern states conducted training exercises on how to deal with a U.S. outbreak of Ebola, a disease that appears to have a much higher mortality rate than the latest coronavirus, said Curtis Harris, the director of the University of Georgia’s Institute for Disaster Management.

Georgia hospitals and other health care facilities have developed plans to accommodate sudden increases in the number of patients seeking care, he said. In some cases, they could put more than one patient in otherwise private hospital rooms or convert offices into treatment space.

Emory and other hospitals didn’t want to discuss their specific plans in place.

— Staff writer Matt Kempner contributed to this article.