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Coronavirus cases climb, some quarantined passengers cleared for home

March13, 2020 Rutledge - Aerial photo shows the COVID-19 isolation and monitoring site, where the first COVID-19 patient Joey Camp is being isolated at Hard Labor Creek State Park, about 50 miles east of Atlanta, on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
March13, 2020 Rutledge - Aerial photo shows the COVID-19 isolation and monitoring site, where the first COVID-19 patient Joey Camp is being isolated at Hard Labor Creek State Park, about 50 miles east of Atlanta, on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

More than 30 people quarantined at two sites in Georgia amid the coronavirus pandemic were released this weekend, state and federal officials said Sunday, a glimmer of good news as the tally of confirmed cases climb.

Thirty-two former passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship — including 23 Georgians and nine from Oklahoma — have returned home from Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. Another eight Georgians were expected to return home Sunday.

The lone patient at a state quarantine site east of Atlanta was released on Sunday after state health officials deemed him cured of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Georgia public health officials announced on Sunday that the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in the state had risen to 99 from 66 on Saturday, when Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency. Lawmakers are expected to meet in special session today to approve the emergency declaration. So far, one death has been attributed to the virus.

The released cruise passengers were among nearly 500 brought to Dobbins after the ship was struck by the disease. Officials said 19 crew members and two passengers tested positive for COVID-19.

On Saturday, Kemp announced that Georgia had been given federal permission to begin returning state residents to their homes from Dobbins. He also authorized calling up as many 2,000 Georgia National Guardsmen to active duty for helping get them home and to “ensure the steady supply of medical equipment, food, shelter, or related materials to keep Georgians safe.”

Officials are scrambling to get the remaining Grand Princess passengers at Dobbins back home.

“We are working with Health and Human Services, which is in charge of the operation, and we are reaching out to states that have people here to facilitate arrangements to get people in a responsible and safe way back to their homes to continue their self-quarantine,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., Georgia’s adjutant general.

State quarantined patient ‘cured’

On Sunday, Joey Camp, a Waffle House cook and former Georgia National Guardsman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was being released from quarantine at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County.

Camp first visted Northside Hosptial Cherokee on March 5. A diabetic, he said he was diagnosed with pneumonia and tested positive for COVID-19 there. He was discharged on March 9 before being sent by ambulance to the remote isolation site at the state park Tuesday.

“If they deem that I am no longer contagious,” Camp said, “I can start making a paycheck again.”

Waffle House said last week it had closed its 1849 Marietta Highway location in Canton and was preparing to sanitize it.

State health officials said Sunday that Camp did not need to be retested for COVID-19 and could be released from the park because he has been asymptomatic for a full week, adding he is considered “cured.”

“That is the new CDC guidance being followed by states,” the state Department of Public Health said. “He was also hospitalized for some time before isolation at the park.”

Hospital and schools updates

Emory Healthcare, which operates 10 hospitals, said that starting today it will postpone for two weeks all elective outpatient and in-patient surgical and procedural cases. The two-week postponement will be followed by week-to-week assessments.

“We are taking this step to protect our patients and are working to support and preserve supplies, equipment and staffing for the most urgent and time-sensitive patient needs,” the company said.

Piedmont Healthcare, which operates 11 hospitals in Georgia, said it would restrict patient visitors to no more than two, and visitors would undergo health screenings to protect patients and employees.

Tents and a mobile medical unit, meanwhile, were set up behind Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.

Fulton County Schools said Sunday afternoon that a Banneker High School employee has tested positive. Schools are closed district-wide until further notice. Other districts throughout metro Atlanta have also shuttered temporarily.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Sunday reported normal operations, a contrast to the long lines international passengers arriving at U.S. airports including Chicago’s O’Hare International and Dallas-Fort Worth have reported. Elise Durham, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta airport, said in a brief email Sunday afternoon that “all operations are running smoothly.”

Staff writers Asia Simone Burns, Alexis Stevens and Ty Tagami contributed to this report.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia

As of Sunday morning, there were 99 confirmed cases in Georgia, including 20 cases in Fulton County; 19 in Cobb; 10 in DeKalb, nine in Bartow; six each in Cherokee and Dougherty counties; five in Fayette; four in Floyd; four in Gwinnett; two each in Coweta, Clayton, Clarke, Lowndes, Lee and Gordon counties; and one each in Newton, Charlton, Henry and Polk counties, according to the latest data.