Henry County launches coronavirus committee as state gets first cases

Henry County leaders on Tuesday announced the south metro community was putting together a coronavirus committee to address issues with one voice should an infection be diagnosed in their area.

The county, which did not have any cases as of Tuesday afternoon, said the move was not to cause panic, but to assure residents that they have a plan should an infection arise.

»THE LATEST: Complete coverage of coronavirus in Georgia

“By starting the preparation now, we will be ready for it,” Assistant Henry County Manager Brad Johnson told an assembled group of leaders, including the mayors of Stockbridge and Hampton, County Commission Chairwoman June Wood and members of law enforcement, Henry Schools and health officials.

The move comes a day after Gov. Brian Kemp announced two cases of the coronavirus in Fulton County, the state's first. It also follows a growing number of Atlanta organizations, including MARTA, that have announced efforts to minimize any role they could have in spreading the virus, such as suspending international business trips and the use of anti-bacterial soaps to clean up any bodily fluids left on the city's subway.

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

Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, director of public health for District 4, which includes Henry County, told Henry leaders to follow measures set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as washing hands thoroughly, wiping down surfaces in public buildings and making sure people who are sick stay home.

He also encouraged the county to have plans that fit specific demographics such as schools and jails instead of trying to one-size fits all approach.

J.D. Hardin, a spokesman for Henry Schools, said the district received a few calls on Tuesday from parents worried about the virus after the Fulton cases were announced, but had had no problems overall.

Others said they were concerned that misinformation could spread if the county did not speak with a unified voice, but Johnson said that could be avoided if Henry appointed one person to be in charge of messaging.

For County Manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews, launching the coronavirus committee makes a simple statement: "Let's not panic about what's going on, let's be prepared," she said.