How Georgia is preparing for coronavirus if it comes

As coronavirus sweeps the globe and the numbers continue to surge, Georgia health officials are bracing for the possibility of local cases. Businesses and schools are making contingency plans. And the economic impact is already being felt.

There were just more than 60 confirmed cases in the U.S. on Friday, none in Georgia. But officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s just a matter of time before the country sees more diagnoses.

» THE LATEST: Complete coverage of coronavirus in Georgia

State officials say the risk for transmission here in Georgia remains low. However, CDC officials are recommending Americans prepare for significant disruptions in their daily lives and take steps to prevent transmission.

Here’s a look at major developments in Georgia to prepare and respond to a possible coronavirus outbreak.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he has created a coronavirus task force and the group held its first meeting Friday.

Kemp names a special task force

Gov. Brian Kemp has named a task force made up of health, airport, school and emergency preparedness officials to identify the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Georgia.

Some task force members include Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Homer Bryson; state Department of Public Health epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek; Emory University Clinical Virology Research Laboratory Director Colleen Kraft; and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport General Manager John Selden.

MORE: Coronavirus task force created in Georgia 

Market figures on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange just after closing on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Panic in the stock market over the spreading coronavirus continued into a seventh day on Friday, with shares in the United States tumbling following steep declines in Asia and Europe. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

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Economic impact already felt

Companies are wrestling with growing questions about the global COVID-19 outbreak's potential impact on their financial results, and the U.S. stock markets have been hammered.

Shipments into the state’s ports will drop up to 40% in March and April, according to projections by the agency that manages that traffic.

Package delivery giant UPS is still making deliveries in most areas worldwide, but said it has suspended all international travel for employees that isn’t business-critical. It also has expanded distribution of face masks to its workers not only in mainland China but in northern Italy.

Home Depot said it has a team, led by medical experts, that is monitoring the coronavirus situation. The company has told employees who recently traveled to Asia to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

And Coca-Cola Company has suspended non-essential international business travel to and from Italy, as well as the Asia Pacific region. It also installed screening for fevers in offices and manufacturing operations that are in areas particularly hard hit by the virus.

FILE - Hospital personnel wearing protective medical gowns speak to a woman at No. 5 Hospital in Wuhan, China. Some medical workers have scrambled to buy their own protective gear, begged from friends, or relied on donations. (Chris Buckley/The New York Times)

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No cases in Georgia but many screened

There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Georgia, but close to 200 residents are under quarantine at home and being asked to self-monitored.

They are people who have returned from recent trips to China. Every day or so, some people being confined to their homes complete a quarantine period, while new travelers are added to the list. The total number has remained about the same. They are being asked to stay home for to 14 days, monitor their health and contact their health-care providers if they develop symptoms.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest international airport, more than 1,000 travelers already have been screened for coronavirus, according to Selden, the airport’s general manager.

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Georgia health officials on high alert

If coronavirus comes to Georgia, the state Department of Public Health will lead the charge against it. It said it will adapt its detailed pandemic flu plan for a COVID-19 outbreak. Epidemiologists are on call 24/7 to help health care providers evaluate individuals with symptoms.

Curtis Harris, director of the University of Georgia’s Institute for Disaster Management, said hospitals and health care facilities in the state have plans for sudden increases in patients, such as converting offices into treatment space.

But if a large number of people are sick, isolating and quarantining patients may not be feasible. Experts say they may need to turn to telemedicine and triage, hospitalizing only the most critically ill.

Schools and families make contingency plans.

Metro area school districts began sending out emails to parents, encouraging hand hygiene, coughing into the elbow and staying home if sick. They also said they have plans in place for online classes should it become necessary to close schools.

Meanwhile, experts say it’s sensible to have enough food and other supplies for two weeks to a month. They recommend bookmarking websites for reliable sources of information, such as your local health department and the CDC.

And Dr. José Cordero, the head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia recommends that families and friends discuss contingency plans for helping each other during an emergency, with everything from childcare to meal sharing.

MORE: What to do to protect yourself from coronavirus in Georgia 

Staff writers Matt Kempner, Kelly Yamanouchi and Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this story.