I again want to reassure you that if you haven’t traveled to China your risk for coronavirus is very low but we have a fair number of people who have traveled, several hundred actually. We want to make sure physicians have the tools they need because we cannot do our jobs in public health without hospitals and the medical community working together with us to ensure that we are recognizing potential cases.Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey
ATLANTA — A leading medical authority addressed the world’s hottest health topic — the coronavirus — during Effingham Day at the Capitol on Feb. 11.
“The coronavirus is so concerning because we don’t really know much about it,” said Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and a former for Centers for Disease Control official.
According to China’s National Health Commission, the number of people diagnosed with the respiratory illness has risen to 68,500. There are at least 15 cases in the U.S.
The disease, limited mostly to Asia so far, has claimed nearly 1,700 lives.
“It probably came from a virus that originally came from an animal and then jumped to infect humans,” Toomey said. “This is similar to other viruses that you may have heard about — SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) — which were very deadly. They also came out of Asia and spread worldwide but were more deadly than coronavirus.”
Toomey noted that the virus, recently given the name COVID-19, is easily spread.
“You are seeing that in China right now,” she said. “We don’t know exactly how it works — how it spreads and exactly the course of the infection that you are able to spread it to someone else, and the length of the incubation period. These are all the things that we know about for measles and other things that we monitor for public health.
“Until we really know exactly how this works (with COVID-19), it is going to be hard for us to be precise about our control efforts.”
Toomey, a member of the Homeland Security Board, attempted to put the Effingham County contingent’s collective mind to rest. She said Georgia has set up a quarantine area at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and identified a procedure to “channel” people from the disease’s hot zone to it after they arrive in Georgia. They will be required to stay for 14 days.
There area 10 similar areas in the U.S.
“We have been told by the CDC that we have put in the best response of all the other locations,” Toomey said. “Part of that is because of the great team and teamwork that we have.”
Home monitoring procedures for people from places with a lower risk for COVID-19 have also been established. They can key in their vital statistics on a website, allowing the health officials to keep track of them.
Toomey’s department has inundated hospitals with information on how to recognize and deal with COVID-19.
“I again want to reassure you that if you haven’t traveled to China your risk for coronavirus is very low but we have a fair number of people who have traveled (to China), several hundred actually,” she said. “We want to make sure physicians have the tools they need because we cannot do our jobs in public health without hospitals and the medical community working together with us to ensure that we are recognizing potential cases.
“What we want to do is prevent what happened in China — the person-to-person spread.”
Toomey has many concerns besides COVID-19. She oversees Georgia’s 159 county health departments.
“(The Department of Public Health) cuts into every person in Georgia,” she said. “If you eat at any restaurant, (the Department of Public Health) has inspected that restaurant, so (the Department of Public Health) is protecting is protecting your health.”
Toomey also said her department conducts metabolic and hearing screenings on approximately 130,000 Georgians born every year.
“I could go on and on about all that we do to serve the people of Georgia,” Toomey said.