TIFTON — With cases of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, having reached Georgia, area organizations have put plans in place should cases be identified in Tift County.

COVID-19 was first identified in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China and has since popped up in a growing number of countries, including the United States.

Georgia saw its first identified cases on Monday, Mar. 2, according to Governor Brian Kemp’s office.

Tift County Emergency Management Agency Director Vickie Hickman said that her department has been in constant contact with the Department of Public Health and Tift Regional Medical Center.

“We do have plans in place just as we did with the Ebola and Zika virus,” she said. “We do not want people to panic, just to be cautious.”  

Hickman recommended washing hands often and keeping hands away from the nose, mouth and eyes as effective strategies for lowering the risk of infection.

According to the Department of Public Health’s website, COVID-19’s symptoms may resemble the common cold or the flu.

“The best way to prevent  nfection with any respiratory virus is to use the same preventative strategies used during a normal cold and flu season: get a flu shot, wash hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when experiencing symptoms of illness until they resolve,” the website states. “It is important to remember that viruses cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities or racial backgrounds and this type of stigma should be avoided.”

Tift Regional Health System/Southwell is an active member of the Georgia Hospital Association’s Emergency Preparedness Program in partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, which is a coordinated effort to prevent, prepare and respond to potential public health emergencies such as coronavirus, according to a statement from Southwell.

“We are working closely with our local public health epidemiologist, and monitoring the CDC website daily for coronavirus updates,” the statement said. “Tift Regional has a multi-disciplinary committee (flu/crisis standards committee) led by Dr. Rubal Patel which meets regularly and is closely monitoring this evolving situation. The committee has reviewed the CDC’s hospital preparedness checklist, and will update protocols as needed.”

The release states that the hospital has also taken measures to prepare staff for the appearance of the virus, which includes reviewing the hospital’s highly infectious disease plan.

“This includes how to handle a contagious suspect, who to notify, and how to don and doff Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” the release states. “We are currently evaluating our supplies and options for possible supply shortages.”

Tift Regional Health System/Southwell will disseminate updates as needed. For more information about how to prepare for the threat of Coronavirus, the community is encouraged to visit www.cdc.gov.

Tift County schools are also keeping an eye on the spread of the virus.

“Tift County Schools is closely monitoring all COVID-19 information being disseminated by the Department of Public Health,” said Jonathan Judy, chief technology and innovation officer for the schools, in a statement. “All guidance is being passed to school administration to be shared with faculty and staff. Many of the precautions are part of normal operating procedure for the district during flu season annually. The safety and security of Tift County staff and students is of the utmost importance.”  

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