UPDATE: Cobb declares State of Emergency for coronavirus

Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce declared a State of Emergency for the county Tuesday night and ordered residents to shelter in place in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“This is unprecedented times for the nation, state and Cobb County,” Boyce said in a statement. “The health and safety of our residents is our top priority. We are taking the necessary steps as recommended by public health experts to ensure that the county is prepared and responding to this virus, and this order helps us do that.”

From 12 pm Wednesday until April 15, public gatherings — whether inside or outdoors — of more than 10 people are prohibited anywhere in the county, it said.

Furthermore, businesses not included in the list of "essential" businesses published in the order can only operate from 6 am to 9 pm. Restaurants may only provide takeout or delivery services.

Boyce said he may amend the declaration to close all non-essential businesses and tighten other restrictions if the new measures do not slow the virus sufficiently.

The chairman’s decision followed a special called meeting Tuesday where public health experts issued grave warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Janet Memarck, director of Cobb and Douglas Public Health, and Daniel Branstetter, the medical director of infection prevention at Wellstar, both warned that the county was dangerously close to exceeding the capacity of its healthcare system given the exponential infection rate of COVID-19.

They emphasized Cobb’s density and many older residents and elder care facilities as particular risk factors.

“Eighty percent of people standing in this room will get COVID-19 no matter what action you take today,” said Branstetter, emphasizing the need to slow the infection rate and spread it out over time.

“What we need to do is put in measures so our healthcare personnel can be available, the equipment, the supplies, the testing, medications, the ventilators can be available to take care of each and every one of us,” he added.

Boyce called the information “sobering.”

“Not enough people are really taking this seriously because not enough people that they know have been infected,” Boyce said. “This is a virulent disease and we have to start taking it seriously.”