It was bound to happen. Just about a month after the first U.S. infection was diagnosed, the new coronavirus made itself known in Georgia. A Fulton County man who had visited Italy, and his home-schooled son, are quarantined at home with mild symptoms of the infection COVID-19.
Notwithstanding the hordes descending on stores to hoard toilet paper, water and hand sanitizer, the response by state officials thus far has been practical and preemptive, lessons honed in recent years.
On March 2, Gov. Brian Kemp announced he had established a task force “to assess Georgia’s preparations and procedures,” and included the state school superintendent, along with health officials. (Hint: There has also never been a more opportune time to seriously reconsider Georgia’s restrictive certificate-of-need regulations on medical facilities and equipment.)
Atlanta, home to the petri dish that is the world’s busiest passenger airport, is fortunate to also be home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the epicenter of the U.S. response to the outbreak. The CDC maintains a comprehensive web page with links to preventive measures, symptoms, updates on its spread and more.
The airline industry, including Delta Air Lines, has implemented generous flight-change fee waivers as the outbreak spreads, a customer-friendly response that will help keep patrons happy and healthy. Many passengers must cancel flights and hotels as conferences are being canceled. With fewer people traveling, hospitality-dependent economies are hurting.
As an earlier Foundation commentary noted, metro Atlanta’s well-earned reputation as a poster child for sprawl works in its favor. The virus is spread by close contact. Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 originated, is a city of 11 million people – about equivalent to the entire population of Georgia.
Dr. James Robb, a microbiologist who worked on earlier coronavirus strains, predicts the disease will be widespread in the United States by mid- to late March and April. In an email, he explains how to minimize the risk of infection. Essentially, don’t shake hands, don’t touch stuff and keep your hands clean with soap, hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes.
Coronaviruses are most commonly transmitted by coughing, sneezing, person-to-person contact, and touching objects that have viral particles on them, according to the CDC. Robb notes that surfaces where cough and sneeze droplets land are infectious for about a week on average, and that “everything associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious.”
Schools are planning ahead for possible closings. Unlike the “snow days” of yore, when schools closed and kids stayed home and played, districts plan to continue lessons through digital learning days. Information and guidance are available at the Georgia Department of Education’s website.
Expect transit ridership to accelerate its downward trend if COVID-19 cases increase in Georgia. Choice riders, especially, will return to their automobiles. Fortunately for auto-centric Georgia, transportation policymakers have not neglected the state’s roads in favor of transit alternatives.
The state’s pattern of facilitating broadband is another plus as companies prepare contingency plans. In states seeing unnerving increases in infection, businesses are encouraging employees to stay home and telework, if possible. Facebook shut down its Seattle headquarters; Twitter is encouraging its workers around the world to work from home. In retail stores, where foot traffic is declining, wary cashiers keep hand sanitizer close at hand – and use it frequently.
Scientists are working around the clock to combat the virus, which is mutating, according to reports. Much is still unknown. Robb, the microbiologist, is pessimistic: “I, as many others do, hope that this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be. … There will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available.”
Prevention, in other words, is better than cure. For Georgians, the best policy is to stay vigilant, stay updated and keep your hands clean.
[Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. © Georgia Public Policy Foundation (March 6, 2020).]