The coronavirus has spread across America and a hundred other countries on six continents with more than 125,000 cases and upwards of 4,600 deaths by late last week. The World Health Organization has declared the situation a global pandemic, the worldwide spread of a new disease affecting large numbers of people. For this virus, there is no vaccine available to check its spread, heightening concern and uncertainty — and fear. The U.S. stock market keeps falling in what can best be described as panic selling.
In America, nearly 1,250 people in 42 states and the nation’s capital had tested positive for the virus and there were 37 deaths, most of them in Washington state, which together with New York and California accounted for more than 60% of the cases. Seeking to reassure the public and stem the spread of the virus, President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from 26 European countries in a rare Oval Office address to the nation. Trump also pushed for an economic stimulus package including a payroll tax cut through the end of the year and extension of the tax filing deadline beyond April 15.
In a grim turn of events, Georgia’s first death from the virus occurred in Cobb County. The victim was a 67-year-old man with underlying medical conditions who tested positive March 7 and was hospitalized at Wellstar Kennestone. As of midweek, Gov. Brian Kemp said there were 31 cases in Georgia with 12 confirmed and 19 presumed positive. Cobb had eight cases, most in the state, followed by Fulton with six and DeKalb with four cases. In addition, there were more than 250 people from the cruise ship Grand Princess off the California coast being quarantined and tested at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Cobb’s situation is in many respects a microcosm of the virus’ effects. Both the county and Marietta school districts are closing schools effective Monday until further notice. Days earlier, the Cobb system confirmed its first positive case at Kincaid Elementary. A teacher at an Acworth childcare center also tested positive, resulting in the center closing for deep cleaning. Likewise, the West Cobb Library closed for cleaning after a worker reported possible exposure to a coronavirus patient, and county officials moved a planned open house on SPLOST from the library to another location.
Our local authorities are taking these precautions in trying to prevent the spread of the virus. To mitigate possible disruption of services, the county is also developing policies such as payment of costs for employee travel to events that are canceled or opted out of; flexible leave for staying home to care for sick family members or children if schools or daycare facilities close; and compensation for employees in the event of a worst-case countywide shutdown. Such precautions are prudent steps in dealing with the threat of the spreading virus for which there is no immunity or vaccine.
In a week of fast-moving developments, Gov. Kemp asked the legislature to appropriate $100 million from the state’s 2.8 billion reserve fund to assist health officials and emergency responders in coping with the virus. The governor is right to make this move in an effort to prevent the virus from gaining a bigger foothold in Georgia if possible or at least mitigating the spread.
Thus far Cobb and Georgia have been spared the drastic steps taken by some other areas hit hard by the virus, such as Washington state where at least 24 people have died from the disease. With more than 260 confirmed cases, the governor there has declared a state of emergency statewide and banned public gatherings of 250 people or more in three counties. The mayor of San Francisco banned group events of more than 1,000 people. Some churches in several states also closed for two weeks. New York City’s mayor declared a state of emergency in the city which had 95 cases of the virus. In the sports world, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspended their seasons as did pro soccer and baseball. The National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled college basketball tournaments including the Final Four in Atlanta.
Georgians together with other Americans and people around the world are now facing the unknown in terms of the coronavirus and what the future holds. It is a time for prudence, precaution and calm, not fear and panic.