What Athens Residents Need to Know About COVID-19

As COVID-19, commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, continues to spread, over 300,000 cases have been confirmed in the world [1]. The local, state and federal governments have announced and implemented plans to keep citizens safe.

As of March 22, there were nine positive cases confirmed in Athens-Clarke County [2]. The Mayor and Commission unanimously approved the decision to declare a local state of emergency in Athens. On March 19, the County passed a special ordinance to ensure social distancing. Unless extended, the ordinance will last until April 7. It requires residents of Athens-Clarke County to shelter-in-place 24/7 aside from essential activities, to practice social distancing by maintaining a six-foot distance from others, to limit travel to only the essentials, and to close nonessential businesses [3]. Essential activities include: obtaining health care and household necessities, engaging in outdoor activity complying with social distancing requirements, professionally providing essential products or services, or caring for a member or pet of another household [4]. Athens-Clarke County residents can find more detailed information at www.accgov.com/coronavirus and view some community resources in Athens by clicking here.

In response to the pandemic, the University System of Georgia has set guidelines that all institutions, including the University of Georgia, must follow. As of March 19, there were two reported cases at the University of Georgia, one case involving a staff member of the athletic department and the other an undergraduate honors student. The University suspended in-person instruction for the remainder of the semester and will transition to online classes beginning Monday, March 30 [5]. UGA also canceled study abroad programs, including Maymester, and will continue to update students and families regarding summer study abroad trips. On March 17, UGA also canceled the May 8 Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement ceremonies, following the state and federal government directives to suspend large events [6]Information and resources from the University can be found at www.uga.edu/coronavirus

On March 12, Governor Kemp addressed the closing of schools in Georgia, revealed the new guidelines for state employees, and announced the creation of four Coronavirus Task Force Committees [7]. The Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by General John King, will evaluate supply availability and the needs of Georgians. The Economic Impact Committee, chaired by State Economist Jeffery Dorfman, will work with academic, business, and policy leaders to prepare for economic impacts on Georgia. The Primary Care Physicians Committee, chaired by State Senator Ben Watson of Savannah, will ensure that the healthcare community is adequately supported in decision-making. The Committee for the Homeless and Displaced, chaired by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, will ensure adequate shelter, resources, and care for these vulnerable populations. Georgians can find more information at www.dph.georgia.gov and contact the state’s COVID-19 hotline about their symptoms at (844) 442-2681. 

The federal government has responded with guidelines for every American to follow for the next 15 days [8]. The government has instructed citizens to avoid crowds, wash your hands frequently, work from home, disinfect, and isolate. The government stresses the importance of every American doing their part to slow transmission of the virus, as the plan only works with the cooperation of everyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, if you feel that you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or are sick with COVID-19 you should do the following: stay home except to seek medical care, separate yourself from others in your home, call before visiting your doctor, wear a face mask if sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, avoid sharing personal items, clean all “high-touch” surfaces everyday, and monitor your symptoms [9].

Similarly, the World Health Organization encourages some of the aforementioned tips as well as others [10]. These measures include maintaining social distancing (at least 3 feet), avoiding touching your face, practicing respiratory hygiene, seeking medical care early and staying informed. You can stay informed about the national and global effects of the pandemic by visiting www.cdc.gov and www.who.int.