Gov. Brian Kemp has announced a coronavirus task force and the University of Georgia is bringing many of its study abroad students back to Athens.

Athens Academy had to postpone its spring break trip to Germany.

“Our facilities crew has been wiping down classrooms, restrooms and other common spaces every day, and we have hand sanitizer stations in every building,” said Athens Academy Director of Communications Kelley Cuneo. 

Oconee County Schools is in contact with local and date agencies, said Director of Communications Anisa Sullivan Jimenez. 

“Our schools continue to encourage healthy habits, including hand-washing and coughing/sneezing into elbows,” she said. “Schools and buses are thoroughly cleaned daily and sanitized regularly.” 

This week, parents of public school children were sent an email from Superintendent Jason Branch on information about ways to prevent infection of respiratory viruses. OCS also asked for those traveling from 

high-risk countries on the CDC’s list to wait 14 days before returning or enrolling in school. 

“OCS will continue following the direction of the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Georgia Department of Education, and the CDC in order to monitor and respond appropriately per their guidelines,” said Jimenez. 

 The county’s posture is one of monitoring and readiness, said Oconee County EMA Director C.J. Worden. 

Should Oconee County experience any cases of the novel coronavirus, the Georgia Department of Public Health will take the lead regarding any treatments administered to those infected, he said. 

“We strongly urge everyone to follow good hygiene practices as normal,” said Worden. 

Melissa Hopkinson, a Bishop resident and science professor at the University of North Georgia Oconee, said it sounds simple but washing hands will slow the spread of the virus.

“Coronaviruses are surrounded by a lipid layer, which is basically a layer of fat. Soap dissolves this fatty layer and kills the virus,” she explained.

Oconee County public health communication strategist Karen Hilyard, whose dissertation explored elements of the federal pandemic preparedness plan, said getting enough sleep is “probably the single most effective, evidence-based thing you can do to boost your immune system.”

“[The novel coronavirus] is a serious disease for people with underlying health conditions,” she said. “But so far, it seems pretty mild in healthy people with decent immune systems.”

Worden said that if a citizen believes he or she may have been exposed to coronavirus, to call (866) PUB-HLTH, which will connect people with an epidemiologist.

“For the vast majority of people who have contracted COVID-19, symptoms have been similar to the common cold or flu,” said Mark Ralston, public relations manager for St. Mary’s Health Care System. “If you do need a doctor’s attention, please call your doctor or urgent care center before you go so they can be prepared to provide you with the care you need without putting others at risk of accidental exposure.

Ralston said St. Mary’s is coordinating with its national parent ministry, Trinity Health, to maintain stocks of critical supplies, equipment and medications. Medical staff has also been trained on symptoms they need to be aware of and questions they need to ask.  

Piedmont Healthcare is following screening guidelines recommended by the CDC when evaluating patients with symptoms of lower respiratory illness and have a history of travel to the affected areas. 

“The elevated screening is being conducted at all of our hospitals or ambulatory clinic settings, including emergency rooms, urgent care and physician practices,” according to a press release. 

The University of North Georgia is conducting preparedness exercises, said Sylvia Carson, executive director of communication. 

“At Westminster Christian Academy, we are actively monitoring the situation and are taking a cautious, yet reasonable approach,” said Head of School Jared Clark. “Practically, we continue to educate our students, staff and families regarding good hygiene practices that diminish the spread of all viruses.”

Additionally, he added, Westminster Christian Academy is “being forward-thinking and creative” in how it might continue to operate school should it face an interruption of typical operations.


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