"Stay calm, we've got this." Local health officials seek to soothe public anxiety over coronavirus

COVID-19, GRA News, Public Health,

Source: WRDW/WAGT Augusta

As the coronavirus begins to spread in the southeast, most are looking towards local health officials to answer the questions surrounding this illness.

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is an illness that began in China and began to spread rapidly worldwide in the past several weeks.

According to the Georgia Restaurant Association, the virus is not foodborne, but some Asian cuisine restaurants have experienced a decrease in sales as much as 50 percent in Atlanta.

Aecha Galloway, owner of Asian Market Grocery on Furys Ferry Road, is coping with the worry of her family in South Korea and the effect the virus could have on her business. She says she gets her food from Atlanta but emphasizes that even the items imported from other areas couldn't contain the live coronavirus.

"We open every day, so we're making money for a living," Galloway said. "If that happened, we'd have to close the store, then we'd have no income coming from anywhere. Prayer works for everything, and that's my job right now."

While local restaurant and business owners worry about the coronavirus' impact on sales, local health officials have a whole different set of anxieties about the illness.

With the two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Fulton County, local hospitals and doctors offices are preparing to evaluate and treat more numbers of people who experience symptoms related to coronavirus. Health officials suggest calling first before going to the hospital to properly contain any exposure.

"We're always on the front line for this, so we're prepared for this," Dr. Bo Sherwood, medical director of University Primary and Prompt Care, said. "We have a straight triage to a special room path that we use if we think you have coronavirus. Our prompt care, University Prompt care, are standing by and ready to treat patients or evaluate patients that may have coronavirus exposure."

Although there are no local test kits for coronavirus, hospitals are prepared to rule out other illnesses first that share common symptoms. According to Sherwood, if a patient does test positive for the coronavirus, the following procedure is the same as other states: you are admitted to the hospital or sent home under quarantine. A big problem with the coronavirus is also the complications, such as pneumonia. However, complications can be stymied if treated early and aggressively.

"If we suspect you have coronavirus, we can collect the appropriate specimens and have them shipped off to the CDC-designated labs. Whether you're admitted or sent back home, there are plans on how to handle this coronavirus. Stay calm, we've got this," Sherwood said.

Other local health centers like AU and Aiken Regional Medical Centers have set preparations to accommodate patients who are tested for the coronavirus such as private contained entrances or providing surgical masks to those who may be infected.

How can the coronavirus get transmitted? Where did it come from?
The virus spreads from person to person in droplets -- like coughing or sneezing. It could spread by touching an infected surface however the virus only survives for 30 minutes in open air.
While experts believe it started in animals, there is no evidence that any domestic pets could get infected.

How do you know if you are possibly infected?
Symptoms may not begin immediately.
Symptoms can include a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Symptoms can be similar to the flu.
Experts say older people and those already sick are more vulnerable.
There is currently no evidence that children are more susceptible; most cases have been found in adults.

Can masks help?
Experts say only wear a mask if you are coughing and sneezing. Do not wear one if you are healthy unless you are taking care of a sick person.
General face masks do not fit every face and could add to the spread of germs.

While the flu killed nearly 18,000 people this year in the U.S., the coronavirus makes headlines because there is no current treatment or vaccine.