Gov. Brian Kemp and state health officials confirmed the first cases of coronavirus in Georgia late Monday night. Two people in Fulton County contracted the virus after one of them traveled to Italy.
The virus was contracted by a man traveling from Milan, Italy, returning via Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Both individuals with the virus are quarantined with relatives in their shared home.
Georgia Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said the man consulted a doctor in “a matter of days” after returning, when he developed symptoms.
His lab testing started Saturday, and results confirming the presence of COVID-19 returned late Monday night, Toomey said.
Toomey said she expects there will be more confirmed cases but that state and local health officials are prepared to treat them.
“We knew that Georgia would likely have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and we planned for it,” Toomey said in a statement. “The immediate risk of COVID-19 to the general public, however, remains low at this time.”
Dozens of cases and a handful of deaths traced to the new flu-like virus have been confirmed in several states in recent weeks. The first two cases in Georgia came days after Kemp tasked a group of specialists including Toomey, State Epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek and public safety officials with handling virus prevention and response activities.
State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, a doctor who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said last week an official quarantine area for coronavirus has been established at an undisclosed location in the state.
Toomey spoke with Kemp at a hastily called 10 p.m. news conference Monday night to disclose some details of the two cases – but declined to elaborate on the travel itinerary of the infected man who visited Italy.
She noted the infected person’s symptoms did not appear until after he arrived back from Milan. The virus is thought to spread largely by “respiratory droplets” from when someone coughs or sneezes after symptoms are present, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms appear within 14 days of contraction and include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Health officials stress for people to wash their hands, cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing and avoid sick persons when possible.
Heath officials also urge anyone with those symptoms to stay home and call a doctor if they have traveled or been around anyone who recently traveled to China, Italy, South Korea, Hong Kong or Iran.
Kemp, in his statement, expressed confidence state officials are ready to handle more confirmed cases of coronavirus as outbreaks continue in other countries and, now, potentially in the U.S.
“Already, state health officials have established contact with these individuals to gather more information, monitor their condition, and determine any exposure,” Kemp said. “They are confident that our efforts to prepare for this moment have enabled us to manage these cases appropriately and minimize any risks moving forward.”