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    Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce declared a State of Emergency for the county Tuesday night and ordered residents to shelter in place in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.  “This is unprecedented times for the nation, state and Cobb County,” Boyce said in a statement. “The health and safety of our residents is our top priority. We are taking the necessary steps as recommended by public health experts to ensure that the county is prepared and responding to this virus, and this order helps us do that.” From 12 pm Wednesday until April 15, public gatherings — whether inside or outdoors — of more than 10 people are prohibited anywhere in the county, it said.  Furthermore, businesses not included in the list of “essential” businesses published in the order can only operate from 6 am to 9 pm. Restaurants may only provide takeout or delivery services.  Boyce said he may amend the declaration to close all non-essential businesses and tighten other restrictions if the new measures do not slow the virus sufficiently.  The chairman’s decision followed a special called meeting Tuesday where public health experts issued grave warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic. Janet Memarck, director of Cobb and Douglas Public Health, and Daniel Branstetter, the medical director of infection prevention at Wellstar, both warned that the county was dangerously close to exceeding the capacity of its healthcare system given the exponential infection rate of COVID-19.  They emphasized Cobb’s density and many older residents and elder care facilities as particular risk factors.  “Eighty percent of people standing in this room will get COVID-19 no matter what action you take today,” said Branstetter, emphasizing the need to slow the infection rate and spread it out over time. “What we need to do is put in measures so our healthcare personnel can be available, the equipment, the supplies, the testing, medications, the ventilators can be available to take care of each and every one of us,” he added.  Boyce called the information “sobering.” “Not enough people are really taking this seriously because not enough people that they know have been infected,” Boyce said. “This is a virulent disease and we have to start taking it seriously.”
  • Georgia’s Phoebe Putney Health System, facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus, has loaded templates to make face masks online for donors locally and around the world to help the hospital group overcome a dire shortage of supplies. Phoebe Putney, which operates four hospitals in the Albany area, said Sunday it posted the instructions because the system has been flooded with offers to help with the supply shortfall. System leaders have said supplies of protective gear such as gowns, gloves, eye shields and special N95 respirator masks are in short supply. Employees at Phoebe Putney started sewing their own masks for hospital workers to cover their remaining N95s and extend the N95s’ life spans. “We have been overwhelmed with calls from people around the country who also want to help,” Phoebe Director of Volunteer Services Suzanne Perrine said in a news release. “While we can only provide materials to local volunteers, we are happy to share our mask-making instructions with volunteers and hospitals around the country. We will gladly accept masks from those who want to support Phoebe, and we encourage Americans to support hospitals in need in their communities as well.” Mask-making instructions and lists of needed supplies are posted online at http://www.phoebehealth.com/coronavirus. The hospital group said masks can be mailed to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, c/o Supply Chain, 1108 North Monroe St. Albany, Ga., 31701. » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia Hospitals across the nation have been gripped by a shortage of coronavirus tests, protective gear and medical equipment such as swabs, complicating care of critically ill patients and putting hospital workers at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Just before noon on Sunday, Phoebe Putney reported more than 100 positive and suspected positive cases of COVID-19 at its main hospital. The system has reported 103 confirmed positive cases overall and six deaths. Nearly 700 other patients, either in-patient or out-patient, are awaiting results of coronavirus tests. Phoebe Putney said its employees and volunteers use surgical sheets to manufacture reusable masks, which are treated with water repellant. The system said if donors do not have surgical sheets, a thicker grade and washable 50/50 or 60/40 cotton-polyester blend fabric can be used. Albany’s Sherwood Baptist Church Hope Center also has set up a collection site to assist the hospitals. A list of needed supplies includes N95 masks, surgical masks, isolation gowns, gloves and sanitizing wipes. The hospital group is also seeking fruit and individually wrapped foods, such as nuts and cereal bars. Donations can be made Monday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 925 Pine Ave. Albany, Ga., 31701. The Phoebe Foundation is also accepting coronavirus relief donations at www.supportphoebe.org/coronavirusrelief. “We can’t say ‘thank you’ enough for everyone who has offered help,” Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney’s CEO, said in the release. “The Phoebe Family feels your support, and you are helping us provide outstanding care and service to the people of southwest Georgia through this public health emergency.”
  • The new coronavirus recorded more firsts in Georgia this weekend: the first confirmed case of an Atlanta police officer, the first state prison inmates and one of the first known cases in an adolescent, a girl who was fighting for her life Saturday at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. The case involving 12-year-old Emma, relayed by a relative, is particularly concerning as COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, so far has been less likely to seriously strike the youngest members of the population. Just 1% of COVID-19 patients in Georgia are in the 0-17 age group, according to the state’s latest figures, though ages aren’t known for 26 percent of reported cases. Justin Anthony, a restaurateur whose restaurants include 10 Degrees South and Yebo Ski Haus, said his cousin Emma tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday night. Emma suffered from a fever that would not break for several days and visited the emergency room multiple times before being admitted to Scottish Rite on March 15 with what was believed to be pneumonia. But Anthony said Emma’s condition worsened and she was placed on a ventilator. Anthony said his family doesn’t know how Emma contracted the virus. Her mother is at the hospital with the child and Emma’s 13-year-old brother is in self-isolation and home alone. Relatives are bringing the boy food every day, but Anthony said they are unable to have physical contact with the boy. Anthony said the family discussed Emma’s case because they want people to know the risk also falls on children. “Kids can get it and I know one who’s fighting for her life,” he said. » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia Children’s Healthcare confirmed the hospital has one COVID-19 patient in isolation but declined to provide any details citing federal privacy laws. The AJC is not identifying the child’s last name and limiting identifying details to protect the family’s privacy. Anthony told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Saturday afternoon that doctors informed the family Emma is stable and that they were lowering the concentration of oxygen she was receiving to determine if her lungs could handle it. Economic fallout The fallout of COVID-19 continues to be felt across Georgia and the nation. Restaurants, retailers and hotels closed their doors and states across country prepared for the continued onslaught of new unemployment claims. On Saturday, CEOs of major airlines, including Atlanta-based Delta, urged Washington to approve a mammoth multibillion-dollar bailout of the industry. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian and the chief executives nine major carriers and the industry’s lobbying group want a federal airline bailout to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The CEOs promised not to furlough employees through August if they get $29 billion in payroll grants. Reports this week indicate that the White House and Senate Republicans are offering up to $50 billion in loans to airlines but not grants. » PHOTOS: Atlantans out and about amid restrictions The U.S. Senate convened Saturday to work on a coronavirus stimulus package. Some oppose the taxpayer-funded bailouts and have urged Congress to enact consumer protections as conditions for the aid. “Time is running out,” the airline CEOs’ letter says. “The worker payroll protection grants are critical to saving the jobs of our employees.” The airline executives are also pushing for at least $29 billion in loans or loan guarantees, and are pledging that if they get them, they will put limits on executive compensation and eliminate stock buybacks and dividends for the life of the loans. Delta has already announced plans to slash 70 % of its flights and is parking at least half its fleet and more than 13,000 Delta employees have taken voluntary unpaid leave. Virus spreads The state reported 555 confirmed cases are now in Georgia, though the death toll climbed Saturday night to 20, up from 14 the day before. Cases have now been reported in more than one third of Georgia’s 159 counties. Fulton (99), Bartow (56), Cobb (50), Dougherty (47) and DeKalb (41) reported the most cases. Phoebe Putney Health System in the southwest Georgia city of Albany, which has been hit hard by the outbreak, reported an additional coronavirus-related death bringing the tally at its hospital system to five. Phoebe Putney, which operates four hospitals in the Albany area, has 83 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 700 patients either in its hospitals or in-home isolation who are awaiting test results, according to a news release. An Atlanta police spokesman confirmed its first known COVID-19 case on Saturday. The officer, who was not named, was posted at the department’s headquarters. Spokesman Carlos Campus said the department’s ability to respond to emergencies has not been affected. Police did not say whether the officer exhibited any symptoms at work, or if the officer came in contact with residents in their day-to-day duties. A civilian at Robins Air Force Base in Middle Georgia also tested positive, officials at the base said. » WATCH: Coronavirus outbreak renders Atlanta city streets quiet State officials said late Friday that three Georgia inmates are now confirmed to have COVID-19. The incarcerated men are from Lee State Prison, a 762-unit medium-level detention center in southwest Georgia’s Lee County, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. All three men have been hospitalized since earlier this week. COVID-19 also has spread among officials at Georgia’s state Capitol. A second state senator disclosed she has tested positive for the virus and other legislators and staffers reported feeling symptoms after the state’s entire legislative branch was urged to self-quarantine. State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick disclosed her diagnosis late Friday and that she had been in self-quarantine since she felt sick a week ago. An orthopedic surgeon, Kirkpatrick is a member of Gov. Brian Kemp’s coronavirus task force. State Sen. Bruce Thompson, who has been hospitalized for respiratory issues, was released Saturday but will remain in isolation. He said results of a coronavirus test are pending. State Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, and Liz Flowers, the director of the Senate Democratic Caucus, also have reported feeling symptoms. New restrictions On Saturday, Tucker became the second Georgia city to enact a curfew, joining South Fulton. Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis signed an executive order limiting public and private gatherings to fewer than 10 people and closing some businesses, including bars, nightclubs, salons, entertainment venues and restaurants with dine-in-only service, according to the Augusta Chronicle. Government orders to close businesses have crippled many small operators, including restaurant company owners like Anthony. On top of his cousin’s coronavirus diagnosis, Anthony said he had to shut down his restaurants and lay off more than 100 workers. But he said the risk to public health was too great for governments to allow restaurants to remain open. Anthony said he is working on a plan to use the kitchens in his restaurants to cook donated meals to displaced hospitality workers and potentially health care workers. “People on the front lines need to be fed,” he said. Staff writers Shaddi Abusaid, Greg Bluestein, Max Blau, Joshua Sharpe and Kelcie Willis contributed to this report. LATEST NEWS   Stay up to date with reliable information from the AJC about the coronavirus and our community. Sign up for our special newsletter that tracks the latest news. https://myaccount.ajc.com/ajc/preference
  • Drive-through testing sites for coronavirus began opening in metro Atlanta in recent days, but testing availability remains extremely limited, frustrating worried residents, and a lack of capacity to process tests continues to hamstring hospitals swamped with suspected cases. To ease the testing backlog, Gov. Brian Kemp endorsed a plan Wednesday to ration tests to those most at risk of coronavirus infection, such as older residents, and those on the front lines of the emergency, such medical workers and first reponders. “Many Georgians are eager to be tested right now, but we need to be mindful of our resources,” Kemp said. “Georgia’s elderly, those with chronic, underlying health conditions, those who live in a long-term care facility like an assisted living facility or nursing home, and those serving on the front lines as a healthcare worker, first responder, long-term care facility staffer, or law enforcement need tests.” » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia The Cobb & Douglas Public Health Department on Wednesday opened a drive-through testing facility at Jim Miller Park south of Marietta that will strictly serve a select number of high-risk people with appointments. These include health care workers, first responders and people who live in congregate settings such as dorms, long-term care centers or homeless shelters. The test site, heavily guarded by Cobb police, had an electronic sign alerting motorists, “Testing By Appt Only” and “No Public Testing.” » RELATED: As hospitals fight to keep up, they tell mild cases not to seek tests » MORE: Supply shortages force health systems to devise own workarounds “Today, is our first run at this and we have to start slowly,” Dr. Janet Memark, director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health told reporters Wednesday. “But we are making sure that logistically everything goes well and start with a few patients today.” The Cobb and Douglas agency has fewer than 50 test kits currently, a spokeswoman said, though it expects to receive more. For now, patients through the Jim Miller Park facility must receive a physician referral that must be approved by the Georgia Department of Public Health before a patient is granted an appointment. A similar restricted drive-through facility opened in Clayton County, while DeKalb County’s health agency is also working to establish its own drive-through test site on a referral-only basis. In the southwest Georgia city of Albany, Phoebe Putney Health System set up a drive-through testing site of its own. There, patients with referrals are given an appointment time and a medical professional in protective gear performs two swabs of the throat and nasal passages. Specimens are kept in a special medium before being shipped to a lab. » RELATED: Preparing for surge, hospitals limit visitors, reschedule surgeries » MORE: Coronavirus to test Georgia’s chronic health gaps Though the federal government has approved billions in emergency funds to produce millions of test kits and to combat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, testing is still strictly constrained nationally. “There is not the capability to do large scale testing right now,” Memark said. Still, the ramp-up of testing is putting pressure on the Department of Public Health (DPH) and private testing labs to process test results more quickly. Phoebe waited a week or more for some of its latest results, during which time at least one patient died before the results came in. As of March 18, the state lab and two private labs have processed 1,508 tests, yielding 197 positive cases of the virus. Yet hundreds, perhaps thousands more are pending, based on test figures from Georgia hospitals and other providers. DPH did not respond to a request seeking the number of backlogged test kits at the state’s lab, or the average time to process tests. » RELATED: Two coronavirus deaths confirmed in southwest Georgia; total now 3 » MORE: First responders brace for strain from coronavirus State officials and three of Georgia’s largest hospital systems this week urged people not to come to hospitals to be tested if they are experiencing only mild or moderate symptoms to minimize the risk of exposing others. Officials urge people not to show up unannounced at hospitals or doctors’ offices. Instead, people should contact their health provider or the state Department of Public Health coronavirus hotline at (844) 442-2681 for more information and instruction. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which operates three hospitals and numerous clinics in metro Atlanta, said it currently is not testing for COVID-19, though it said it is “collecting specimens at our hospitals if certain criteria are met.” “Given nationally limited supplies of test kits at present and limited capacity to process specimens, this is reserved for higher-risk children or those deemed necessary to test by the Georgia Department of Public Health,” the health system said in a statement. “Parents can often manage symptoms at home, as testing is not required and does not usually affect how a child is treated for COVID-19.” Backlogs around the state The Phoebe Putney Health System, which operates four hospitals near Albany, is awaiting results on more than 400 tests at national labs, with some pending for more than a week. Atlanta area hospitals, meanwhile, also have reported backlogs stretching several days. Hospitals must treat presumptive COVID-19 cases as if they were confirmed. The testing backlog ties up precious resources on some patients who, while sick, might not require hospitalization or such strict isolation. Those resources instead could go to other patients known to have the disease. “It’s very frustrating,” Phoebe President and CEO Scott Steiner said. “We have just got to get results.” Frustrated by delays, Steiner said his hospitals recently switched from LabCorp to Quest Diagnostics. He said his hospitals are re-testing patients who already have been swabbed and sending those kits to Quest in hopes of a faster response. Federal officials in a press conference with President Trump on Wednesday said national laboratories would soon bring online new processing capabilities to quickly work through the backlogs, which will likely create a spike in the figures of confirmed infection counts in Georgia and other states. Emory Healthcare said this week Swiss pharma and diagnostic giant Roche would provide its lab supplies to process about 200 test kits per day. The state’s health lab, meanwhile, also is attempting to ramp up capacity to 200 tests per day. But it’s unclear when they will reach that capacity. ‘Making a mask’ The lack of widespread testing has unnerved Georgians. Bill Taylor of Alpharetta said he experienced shortness of breath so bad a few weeks ago he dialed 911, afraid he’d contracted COVID-19. At 56, and a scuba diver, Taylor said he had never experienced such respiratory distress. But he’d interacted with people who recently traveled to Italy and his immune system had been battered by a series of recent infections. Taylor said he was told to go to an emergency room, but he said he feared if he had the virus he might spread it to others at the hospital. He said he got the runaround calling to his doctor, an urgent care clinic and public health agencies. Ultimately, Taylor said he recovered at home. But the scarcity of testing scared him, and he said he still wants to be tested, fearing he might be contagious. “Right now, I’m making a mask,” Taylor said. “I’m watching a video online on how to sew one.” Staff writers Chelsea Prince and Ariel Hart contributed this this report. 
  • City of Atlanta employees have complained that they are receiving contradictory messages about whether they must report to City Hall, or if they should work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. One employee in planning said workers were mandated to come into the office because the department wasn’t set up for teleworking. “It’s a deserted ghost town and we are the only ones here,” said the employee, who asked not to be name out fear of being fired. “We are just all scared to death to be here.” A city spokesman said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms “has made it abundantly clear that the City of Atlanta has implemented its teleworking policy.” “We have taken significant measures to ensure city operations continue without disruption while working to protect the health of our employees,” the spokesman said. “To the extent that there are employees within City Hall, every precaution is being taken to ensure that they are able to exercise appropriate social distancing.” The employee said planning department supervisors have mandated that employees must report to City Hall, and those with concerns about being exposed have to take sick leave or vacation time to stay outside of the office. On Friday, the city’s Human Resources Department issued a citywide memo saying that effective immediately all non-essential employees were to work from home and essential employees should report to work as usual. The memo did not identify what workers the city considered essential. “No one knows what criteria the city is using,” said Gina Pagnotta-Murphy, president of the Professional Association of City Employees of Atlanta. Pagnotta-Murphy said she fields a dozen calls a day from employees complaining, and that the Public Works Department issued a memo Wednesday defining all employees as essential. Despite the memo, Pagnotta-Murphy said, some public works employees were still performing their jobs from home. The department oversees trash collection, some infrastructure projects and transportation permits, among other city services. Pagnotta-Murphy said she has requested that the city give premium hazard pay — double the normal pay rate — to employees who must report to work. “We are a risk to our families,” she said. Some contradictory messages about the city’s internal response to the pandemic have come from the highest levels. On Sunday afternoon, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms sent out a robo call warning residents about the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus. She said the city had implemented its teleworking policy and that City Hall would be closed to the public for the next two weeks — but that fire, police, water and trash services would continue as normal. “While we are not panicked in Atlanta,” Bottoms said, “we do strongly emphasize the need to take precaution and or preparedness.” A couple hours later, Chief Procurement Officer David L. Wilson II said he had checked with human resources and that the city hadn’t sent a robo call, according to an email obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If you have received this call, disregard,” Wilson wrote to his employees. He then identified roughly 10 senior procurement managers, himself included, as essential employees and told them to report to work Monday morning for a leadership meeting. He told other employees they could participate over the phone. Wilson did not explain why the managers needed to come into the office.
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is revising her executive order limiting public gatherings from 250 to 50 people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; a person in a homeless shelter has tested positive for the virus; and there are discussions about closing bars and restaurants, according to a list serve post from State Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta to her constituents on Monday. Gardner attributed the information to a conference call she was on with the Mayor Monday. Gardner also said there are talks about how to isolate homeless people who test positive for the virus. There was no immediate response from the mayor’s office. But Bottoms did confirm some of the information during an interview on CNN. Georgia Restaurant Association Chief Executive Officer Karen Bremer told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that her organization would prefer that restaurants and bars continue to operate. But if the mayor orders them closed, Bremer asked that they still be allowed to provide takeout and delivery food service, which accounts for about 30 percent of a restaurant’s business.  “I’m not understanding why this is an issue,” Bremer said. “This is not a food-borne illness.” Bremer said that last week overall business at Georgia restaurants had  dropped by 50 to 70 percent. 
  • Concerts, festivals and theater performances are being canceled at a frenetic pace. College basketball’s men’s Final Four tournament, scheduled to take place in Atlanta early next month, is scratched. Some metro Atlanta schools are closed “until further notice.” Many in metro Atlanta are wondering if these measures, taken to try to address a widening coronavirus outbreak, are too extreme. After all, they say, isn’t it just like the flu? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked experts, including Ted M. Ross, the director of University of Georgia’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology, and Ben Lopman, the professor of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, to discuss the coronavirus and to explain how it differs from the seasonal flu. Why are so many events being canceled? Experts say avoiding large gatherings, practicing social distancing and closing schools are effective ways to flatten the epidemiological curve of the virus. That mean slowing down the rate of infection enough to avoid a surge of sick people in hospitals all at once. It also can help buy time for the development of treatments and vaccines. Ultimately, they say, suspending life as usual will save lives. Carrying on as normal would mean “a spike in cases that would overwhelm our hospitals, our clinics, our first responders, all of our systems,” said Ross. Many infectious disease specialists say containing the new coronavirus is no longer possible. Now, it’s a matter of mitigating the impact. » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia But isn’t it really no worse than the flu? Some have been comparing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to the flu. But members of a White House task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress that COVID-19 is not like the seasonal flu. It is worse. Both are contagious respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms, and they spread in similar ways. But there are major differences. The new coronavirus appears to be more contagious than the flu, and it’s also more deadly, particularly for older people and those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. “People are familiar with seasonal flu, so let’s use that as a reference point. This coronavirus is worse than the seasonal flu in basically every respect: It’s more severe, more infectious and, most importantly, it is new,” said Lopman. “That means the entire population is probably susceptible to this, whereas, with flu, many people have acquired immunity either by being infected in the past or by being vaccinated.” How many people has the COVID-19 sickened so far? The coronavirus epidemic had sickened nearly 140,000 people worldwide, as of Friday. At least 5,073 people had died, including 1,893 outside of mainland China. In the U.S., there were more than 1,600 cases, according to the CDC. And, while the total number of COVID-19 cases has not come close to the number of flu cases this season, experts note we are still in the early days of the pandemic and that it could spread quickly. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, warned lawmakers this week that, without aggressive efforts, the number of those infected would go way up to the “many, many millions.” Ross also said he thinks it’s time for everyone – and not just people in high risk groups – to avoid large crowds to reduce spreading the virus. While young, healthy people, including children, may not be at high risk themselves for severe illness, they can spread it to others who may be at a much higher risk. How deadly is the virus? The mortality rate for the seasonal flu is 0.1% or 1 in 1,000 people. According to the World Health Organization, the latest estimates for the fatality rate for the coronavirus stands at 3.4%. Ross said that figure could be an overstatement because mild cases of the disease are less likely to be diagnosed. That increases the pool of people who survive. He said it will take a while to determine whether the mortality rate is closer to 2% or 3%. Either way, it’s 20 to 30 more times more deadly than the flu, he said. Lopman, meanwhile, said the rate could end being even lower, possibly 2% or under, making it 10 to 20 times more deadly than the flu. Lopman added the mortality rate varies from one country to another. Is the coronavirus more contagious? Though researchers are still trying to determine the average number of people who catch the virus from a single infected person, preliminary studies include the new coronavirus is more contagious than the flu. There are still a lot of questions about the role people who are asymptomatic may play in spreading the disease. While the CDC says it’s possible for asymptomatic people to spread the disease, some experts say that’s not a proven theory. Ross wondered whether people who may consider themselves asymptomatic are attributing mild symptoms to a cold or allergies. There is growing concern from experts that people who are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms may be spreading the illness more than previously thought. Who’s at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness? Experts say those who have the highest risk of becoming severely ill are people who are older than 60, or have a weakened immune system, or chronic illnesses like lung disease, heart disease or diabetes. Preliminary reports indicate the mortality rate increases dramatically with age, with those between ages of 40 to 49 facing a mortality rate of around 0.4% compared to those over 80 facing a mortality rate close to 15%. Children infected with the new coronavirus tend to have mild or no symptoms. That’s in contrast to the flu, which is generally more dangerous to children, particularly very young ones. And not everyone who becomes severely ill fits the high-risk profile. Dr. Li Wenliang, a physician in China who sought to warn his colleagues to the outbreak there and was reprimanded by police, died from the disease at age 34. How does the new coronavirus compare to other coronaviruses?  This new coronavirus is less severe than other coronaviruses such as SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome which also began in China, and had a mortality rate of about 10%. The SARS outbreak started in 2002, and there were 8,098 reported cases and 774 deaths. But the new coronavirus is more contagious. With SARS, people generally needed to have severe symptoms to spread the disease, so it was much easier to identify and isolate the cases. The new coronavirus, in contrast, can spread when people experience far more mild symptoms. SARS spread to 26 countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia before it was contained in July 2003. There was a total of eight cases in the U.S. and none in Georgia. 
  • An individual associated with Kincaid Elementary School in Cobb County has tested positive for the coronavirus, the district said in a statement Wednesday.  Due to federal privacy laws, the district said it could not share specifics about the case. “We have prioritized the health of Kincaid students and staff by deciding to close Kincaid Elementary for the next 14 days beginning on March 12th,” it said in a statement. “Within 48 hours of school closure, and following DPH guidelines, Cobb staff will thoroughly clean and sanitize the entire campus, including buses. No other Cobb schools are closed at this time.” Affected students will get “digital classroom content” from their teachers using “a variety of digital platforms and tools,” it said.  The school is located near Sandy Plains Road in East Cobb. The statement concluded saying the district will continue following the direction and guidance of public health authorities.  Check back for updates...
  • A plan to improve safety and oversight in Georgia’s senior care homes sailed through the House on Friday in a near-unanimous vote. The proposal now heads to the Senate, and if it is adopted there and signed into law, it would increase training requirements and safety protections for seniors in assisted living and large personal care homes. It would also increase fines for abuse and neglect in homes in the rapidly growing industry that cares for thousands of elderly Georgians. HB 987, which passed the House on a 160-1 vote, has been championed by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who shepherded it through the House in little more than a week after she and her co-sponsors introduced the bill. She said the bill was a “carefully crafted compromise” that tried to balance concerns of senior advocates as well as the care industry. » SEARCHABLE DATABASE: Details on every facility studied by the AJC » MORE: The ‘Unprotected’ investigative series “I’m a nurse,” said Cooper, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee. “I believe in prevention. This is a proactive approach.” Cooper drafted the legislation to address many of the problems outlined in an investigative series published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last fall. The series found nearly 700 cases of neglect and abuse documented in these facilities across the state and more than 20 deaths linked to breakdowns in care. Cooper and Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, mentioned the AJC investigation on the House floor as they urged colleagues to adopt the bill. Smyre said he was particularly touched by a piece in the series that told the story of a 92-year-old great grandmother with dementia who died when she wandered away from a Macon facility in the middle of the night, fell down a steep hill and broke her neck. He said his grandmother had also wandered from a care facility, but she was found uninjured, and his family was able to move her to a different home. “We need to continue to create good public policy to oversee the senior care facilities so we can stop such tragedies in the future,” Smyre said. “This is a huge step in the right direction.” The lone dissenting vote in the House came from Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague, D-Red Oak. Beasley-Teague did not respond before deadline to a call seeking comment. The bill, which will go next to the Senate, would require administrators who run assisted living facilities or large personal care homes to receive special training and licenses, similar to the requirements placed on nursing home administrators. It would also require facilities to get certification for memory care units and employ staff who are more highly trained to care for people with dementia. The proposal also recognizes the complexities of caring for these residents and would require more around-the-clock staff on these special units. The bill also would require assisted living homes and memory care centers to have nurses on staff for a minimum number of hours each week, depending on how many people reside at the home. The AJC series revealed that state oversight of the senior care homes is weak and that the Georgia oversight agency doesn’t have sufficient staff to conduct annual inspections. It also revealed how a gold rush mentality to profit from aging seniors led to a building boom in Georgia, creating competitive pressures that caused some facilities to struggle financially and care to suffer. The bill acknowledges this issue with a new requirement for facilities to disclose financial problems and ownership changes that could impact care. As part of getting a state license, homes would also have to demonstrate they are financially viable. » RELATED: Advocates urge lawmakers to fund reform of senior care system » MORE: As state struggles to protect seniors, agency mum on more inspectors The bill also would increase fines for deaths or serious injuries linked to poor care. Currently, many of the most serious cases of harm result in a state fine of mo more than $601. Under the bill, the minimum fine would roughly double, and cases where a home is cited in relation to death or serious harm would result in a minimum fine of $5,000. It’s unclear when the Senate will hear the bill, but Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, plans to help push to get it passed. He is Gov. Brian Kemp’s Senate floor leader and said he is hopeful the bill will gain support. “The governor’s office has been working with Chairwoman Cooper on this from the beginning,” Strickland said. “I plan on leading the charge to get it passed.” Gail Walker, the daughter of the woman whose story Smyre recounted on the House floor, has been following the legislative reform efforts, and she is hopeful change is coming that will help protect seniors in the future. She said she was heartened by the fact that the retelling of her mother’s tragic end in 2015 may have helped effect positive change. “I know my mother would be very excited that her situation helped somebody else along the way,” Walker said. “It makes what happened to my mother a little bit easier to accept.”
  • The thousands of people who feed the city of Atlanta’s parking meters every day are subject to an enforcement program accused of predatory ticketing, double billing and now potentially fraudulent collection practices. The problem has become so severe that the municipal court judge who presides over parking disputes sent an email to the city’s parking contractor, ATL Plus, warning that the people whose citations were overturned in his court were still being hounded for fines they didn’t owe. “I’m getting dozens of complaints every week,” Judge Gary Jackson wrote in a September 2018 email. “If ATL Plus starts towing cars on dismissed cases, there will be lawsuits. It will be known that ATL Plus continues collection efforts knowing that cases have been dismissed. “I do not think it is in [the company’s] best interest to continue its improper practice of issuing threatening collection letters.” PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THIS ISSUE In the months that followed the email, officials from the court and company talked in circles about how to correct what seemed to be the problem’s root: a lack of integration between computer software, according to documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. To this day, the problem remains unresolved. And multiple drivers recently told the AJC that the issue extends further, saying they have been subject to collection efforts even after paying their fines in court. In 2018 and 2019, about 30 percent of the 6,353 parking tickets adjudicated in Municipal Court were dismissed. Company officials declined to answer questions about their collection practices, referring all questions to the city. ATL Plus is operated by Chicago-base SP Plus, a company with roughly 23,900 employees that provides parking management services for large cities throughout the nation, including Chicago, Denver and New Orleans. A spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also declined to comment, and the city has yet to turn over documents the AJC requested Feb. 10, seeking the number of tickets issued by ATL Plus since the five-year contract took effect in 2017; collection letters sent to ticket recipients; and monthly audits required by the contract that gauge the accuracy of the citations issued. Victor E. Hartman, an Atlanta attorney and former FBI agent who authored the book “The Honest Truth About Fraud,” told the AJC that attempts at collecting fines that are not owed could potentially be criminal. “If the company was clearly put on notice that a percentage of their collections were not valid, then the feds could charge mail and/or wire fraud,” Hartman said. “If this were a widespread scheme and the internal actors knew it and personally benefited, this might get the attention of of the United States Attorney’s Office.” Apparently, it has. In a January email, an FBI agent sought an appointment with Jackson after being told the judge “might have some information in regards to ATL Plus.” The U.S. Attorneys Office has been investigating City Hall corruption since 2015, but it is not clear if parking enforcement is part of that probe. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak referred a reporter to the FBI, who did not immediately comment. Mitch Bierman, a Miami-based attorney with expertise in government affairs and administrative law, said ATL Plus collection efforts could expose the company to lawsuits under the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. “Collecting a debt that is not owed is a violation,” said Bierman, the managing director for Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman’s Miami-Dade office. ‘I think that they are knowingly violating the law’ Alisa Aczel, an attorney who specializes in corporate restructuring and post judgment collections, said she has personally been caught up in the system and thinks there is more to it than a computer glitch. Aczel said she was visiting her dentist in June when she received a $35 ticket for allowing her meter to expire. She appealed, but the company upheld the validity of the ticket. Aczel said company officials then told her the dispute was being transferred to Municipal Court and she would be notified of a date to appear. In late October, Aczel said, ATL Plus sent her a letter claiming the original fine was uncontested and that she owed $95. After calling the court, Aczel said she was told her hearing was Oct. 4 and that she was listed as a failure to appear — although court officials could not provide information about the attempts to notify her of the date. A court employee told her she could pay $35 over the phone to take care of the citation, which she did partly out of concern about having a failure to appear on her record, according to Aczel. But the ordeal wasn’t over. Aczel received another collections notice in January claiming that she still owed $95 for the June citation. She complained to Jeffrey McGirt, SP Plus’ public safety enforcement manager. “When a citation (ticket) is disputed to court, it is dismissed from our system and forwarded to the Atlanta Municipal Court for disposition,” McGirt wrote in an email. “Once there the adjudication process is on their end as we have no input or access to the court tickets.” He didn’t explain why the collection agency had demanded a payment that Aczel no longer owed. “I expect for the government to be incompetent,” Aczel said. “I think this is an extremely different situation here … They were clearly trying to get me to pay more than I owed. “I think that they are knowingly violating the law.” Aczel isn’t alone. The AJC spoke to eight people with various complaints, including a city employee whose car was booted after her citations were dismissed in court. For this story, the newspaper also reviewed 45 written complaints and hundreds of pages of documents. Kayla Teasley provided the AJC with a picture of a bank statement showing that she paid a $50 citation on Dec. 19, 2019 — ten days after it was issued. Yet ATL Plus sent her a letter dated Jan. 28 stating that she still owed the money. Last year, the Better Business Bureau gave ATL Plus a rare “F” rating based on complaints it has received. One person complained to the BBB, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing marketplace trust, that collection efforts continued even after they paid their ticket twice. “I paid a ticket months ago and I keep getting letters to my house,” according to a complaint filed in May. “I paid it again, but the balance was not updated … I keep getting letters to my house … I honestly don’t know what to do here.” Reed: A new era of parking enforcement Over-zealous parking enforcement has frustrated Atlantans for a decade. Ever since Mayor Shirley Franklin privatized the city’s parking enforcement in late 2009, residents have grumbled about being unfairly targeted by over-zealous enforcement, and being unable to appeal tickets. The former enforcement contractor was ParkAtlanta, a subsidiary of Wisconsin-based Duncan Solutions. That contract guaranteed the city $5.5 million a year in revenue from fines, and the number of parking citations skyrocketed. One year, the company issued more than 200,000 citations. Mayor Kasim Reed’s signed a new contract with ATL Plus that assured the city even more money — $7 million per year. Reed said the contract would usher in a new era for what had been a source of public outrage. But there appears to be no solution in sight. Atlanta municipal court Chief Judge Christoper Portis told the AJC on Tuesday that the integration between ATL Plus and court computers has yet to occur. It was proving more difficult than expected, he said. In emails, his colleague, Judge Jackson, continued to complain about the matter. “Will this ever be done?” Jackson asked in June. A company employee responded that the municipal court’s administrator had told her that “there were more pressing vendor integrations.” “Thus, ATL Plus will be one of the last vendors to be integrated into the municipal court system,” wrote company manager Natasha Labi. “We seem to be the forgotten stepchild and the public parkers and the court staff suffer,” Jackson wrote in response. Then in an email late last month, he appeared to have given up hope. “This issue apparently will never be resolved,” Jackson wrote.

News

  • Residents of several communities have come up with a fun way to keep kids entertained while school is out. Cities and towns such as Boston, Walpole, Haverhill, Leominster and others have organized “bear hunts,” where residents place teddy bears in their windows so kids can drive or walk around spotting the bears. “As we take our daily walks, we look at everybody’s windows to see if we can find a teddy bear,” said Candida Shepard, a mother. Shepard’s 4-year-old twins, Payton and Ayden, have taken up the fun activity in their Hyde Park neighborhood as more neighbors join in on the fun. “We saw the teddies in the window,” said Payton. The “bear hunts” are inspired by a children’s book, and residents can add their streets to a map on social media that parents use to trace the route they will take their kids on walks or drives, looking - at a safe distance - for the bears displayed in the windows. “It’s something nice to chime in about rather than something dismal, which is going on right now,” said Mary Francis, who put a teddy bear in her window. The Shepard twins’ grandmother placed teddy bears in her window, enjoying the cheer they bring to the youngest neighbors who have been home from school and stuck in the house. “People are actually walking by with a big smile on their face,” said Francis. Kids and adults alike are entertained and uplifted by the sight of the bears in the windows, a heartwarming illustration of how communities are doing everything they can to take care of each other. As volunteers step up to produce masks and donate supplies to medical workers, initiatives like the bear hunt aim to help keep people’s mental health strong. Something as simple as a teddy bear on a windowsill can be the light in someone’s day. As the twins write encouraging messages for others to stay hopeful during a scary time with their mom, a health care worker, they’re also thinking of their family in Italy. The country has been hit the hardest by the virus, where the outbreak has been the most rampant. “Stay safe from the ‘Canola’ virus,” Ayden wrote. If you want to participate, just search in your local community’s Facebook group to find a bear hunt near you.
  • With more states imposing “safer at home” and quarantine orders because of the coronavirus, families and friends are searching for ways to stay connected. Sure, the telephone works, but more people are using video apps for face-to-face contact. It’s a good way for older citizens to connect with grandchildren without worrying about coming in contact. While hugs may be precious, people are becoming more aware of staying isolated. There are plenty of ways to connect. Here is a look at 12 video-chatting applications: Zoom: This app appears to be geared toward business, but families can use Zoom too. Users initiating a meeting are taken to a virtual room that looks like a table in a conference room. Personal groups of up to 100 people can meet online for free. Business options include packages for sale that allow up to 1,000 participants. Facebook Live: Viewers can connect in real-time from their cellphones, computers and even through their television set. FaceTime: This app, though the Apple store, allows users to make video and audio calls to groups of up to 32 people. FaceTime is available on Apple products including iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Facebook Messenger: Similar to FaceTime, Messenger allows free video calling around the world for individuals or groups of up to six. It can be used on cellphones, tablets and computers. Skype: This app has been around for a while. Skype can accommodate groups of up to 50 people worldwide, It can be used on computers, mobile devices, XBox One and even smartwatches. WhatsApp: More than 2 billion users take advantage of the WhatsApp. The mobile app works on Android and iOS platforms, making it a good choice for people with friends owning diverse types of devices. The free app allows groups of up to four users per session. Tango: You know the old phrase. It takes two to Tango, and this app restricts video contact to two people. This free app is good but only two! The free app is good for video calling one other person at a time. You can also make voice calls, send messages and play games using Tango. Google Hangouts: This app is free in its basic form. Google Hangouts allows up to 10 participants at a time. You can even video chat through your Gmail accounts. Instagram: Up to six people can video chat at once via Instagram. Houseparty: This video chat app is owned by Epic Games, which developed Fortnite. Houseparty allows people to play video games or test trivia skills through its interface. It is available through Android, iOS, MacOs and Chrome. Snapchat: With Chat 2.0, Snapchat users can use a full, featured video chat service. Snapchat is free to use, but can chew up a lot of data time. It is recommended to connect to a wireless network before making your call. Viber: The Viber app is good for international calls and one-on-one video calls. Calls between Viber users are free, but a fee will apply for calling people without the app.
  • More than a fifth of Detroit's police force is quarantined; two officers have died from coronavirus and at least 39 have tested positive, including the chief of police. For the 2,200-person department, that has meant officers working doubles and swapping between units to fill patrols. And everyone has their temperature checked before they start work. An increasing number of police departments around the country are watching their ranks get sick as the number of coronavirus cases explodes across the U.S. The growing tally raises questions about how laws can and should be enforced during the pandemic, and about how departments will hold up as the virus spreads among those whose work puts them at increased risk of infection.  »Sign up for our new coronavirus newsletter “I don’t think it’s too far to say that officers are scared out there,” said Sgt. Manny Ramirez, president of Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Nearly 690 officers and civilian employees at police departments and sheriff’s offices around the country have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an Associated Press survey this week of over 40 law enforcement agencies, mostly in major cities. The number of those in isolation as they await test results is far higher in many places. Anticipating shortages, police academies are accelerating coursework to provide reinforcements. Masks, gloves and huge volumes of hand sanitizer have been distributed. Roll call and staff meetings are happening outside, over the phone or online. Precinct offices, squad cars and equipment get deep cleaned in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Yet, many are worried it's not enough. This week, groups representing American police and fire chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and county leaders asked President Donald Trump in a letter to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to ensure they have enough protective gear. “We’re in war footing against an invisible enemy and we are on the verge of running out' of protective supplies, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “We’ve got hospitals calling police departments, police departments calling each other, and it’s time to nationalize in terms of our response.” Police are accustomed to meeting staffing crunches by canceling vacations and leave, putting officers on 12-hour on, 12-hour off schedules and, when necessary, by shifting detectives and other specialized personnel to patrol. And officers are used to risk. It's part of the job. But at a time when Americans are being advised to stay six feet from each other to combat an insidious virus that can live on surfaces for days, the perils and anxieties are new. This crisis is unlike any American police forces have dealt with before, said former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We're in unprecedented territory here,” said Davis, who led the police department when the Boston Marathon bombing happened in 2013. Streets are less crowded as people hunker in their homes. But police must prepare for the possibility of civil unrest among people who become anxious or unhappy about government orders or hospitals that get overrun with patients, he said. In New York, which has rapidly become the American epicenter of the pandemic, more than 500 NYPD personnel have come down with COVID-19, including 442 officers, and the department's head of counter-terrorism was hospitalized with symptoms. Two NYPD employees have died. On a single day this week, Friday, 4,111 uniformed officers called in sick, more than 10% of the force and more than three times the daily average. Leadership at America’s largest police department maintains that it’s continuing enforcement as usual. But they’ve also said that if the disease continues to affect manpower the NYPD could switch patrol hours, or pull officers from specialized units and other parts of the city to fill gaps -- steps also taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. But the U.S. is now leading the world in the number of confirmed cases; more than 100,000. Over 1,700 people have died in the country. And doctors say cases are nowhere near peaking. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington, D.C., said police can't just go out of business. “They need to have ways so that if one person goes down, who’s going to back that person up, so departments are having to be innovative,” he said. In big cities and remote areas alike, officers are being told to issue tickets or summons rather than making arrests for minor crimes. More crime reports are being taken by phone or online. These steps to limit exposure come as police must beef up patrols in shuttered business districts and manage spikes in domestic violence. In Detroit, officials say many of those quarantined should return to duty soon. In the meantime, an assistant chief recently released from quarantine is heading up day-to-day operations while Chief James Craig is out. Many officers are also worried about whether they'll be able to draw workers compensation benefits if they get sick, since the coronavirus is not spelled out in the list of covered conditions. “No one really knows,” said Robert Jenkins, president of the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police union, which covers 22,000 officers. “Unfortunately, we have to be out there. We don’t have a choice.” While the pandemic has so far hit American cities hardest, rural law enforcement agencies with few staff are in some ways most vulnerable. In the tiny West Texas community of Marfa, Police Chief Estevan Marquez instructed his four officers not to pull over cars for minor traffic infractions, especially if they're passing through from areas already hit by the virus. He can't afford for anyone to get sick.
  • Tom Coburn, a former U.S. senator from Oklahoma known as a conservative political maverick, died after a battle with prostate cancer, according to The Associated Press. He was 72. Coburn retired from the Senate in 2015 after being diagnosed with cancer. He served two terms from 2005 to 2015, KOKI reported. “Oklahoma has lost a tremendous leader, and I lost a great friend today,' U.S. Sen. James Lankford said in a statement. “Dr. Coburn was an inspiration to many in our state and our nation. He was unwavering in his conservative values, but he had deep and meaningful friendships with people from all political and personal backgrounds. He was truly respected by people on both sides of the aisle.” In the Senate, Coburn was the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and also served on the committees on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and Intelligence. From 1995 to 2001, Coburn represented Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A family physician, Coburn was a member of the Committee on Commerce, where he sat on the subcommittees on Health and Environment as vice-chairman, Energy & Power, and Oversight and Investigations. Coburn was also selected co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2001. Services for Coburn have not been announced, KOKI reported.
  • Florida senior citizens who live in a downtown Orlando high-rise flickered the lights of their apartments Friday in a show of support for the doctors and nurses who are trying to thwart the spread of the coronavirus. Residents of Westminster Towers flickered their apartment lights at 9 p.m. to show support for the medical professionals working at Orlando Health. “Tonight, we flashed all of our lights to show our thanks to the hero health care workers at Orlando Regional Medical Center as they work hard to treat the sick and keep us safe from COVID-19,” Westminster Towers said on Facebook. “Thank you.” The display could be seen from the hospital campus, which is near the apartment building. “Thank you (Westminster Towers) for lighting up the night and our hearts,” the hospital network said on Facebook. “We’re all in this together.”
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia climbed to 2,366 Saturday as the state’s death toll reached 69. Since Friday evening, the confirmed number of Georgians who have died as a result of COVID-19 increased by four, according to the latest data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.  » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia Health officials also confirmed an additional 168 cases since the 7 p.m. update. Of Georgia’s overall cases, 617 people remain hospitalized, a rate of about 26%, according to the state’s noon figures.  Fulton County still has the most cases with 373, followed by DeKalb with 240, Dougherty County with 205, and Cobb with 181.  As of Monday, the number of confirmed cases across the state was fewer than 1,000 Since Friday evening, Fulton has 26 new cases, while DeKalb has 21 more and 18 more people tested positive in Cobb. Four counties also reported their first cases, including Murray, Walton, Jenkins and Pike.  » MORE: City under siege: Coronavirus exacts heavy toll in Albany A total of 11,051 tests have been conducted so far in Georgia. About 21.4% of those returned positive results. On Friday afternoon, the DPH started releasing data on where people died. Dougherty County leads the count with 13 deaths, followed by Fulton with 12, Cobb County with eight, and Lee County with five. About 2.9% of Georgians who have tested positive for the highly contagious disease have died. » DASHBOARD: Real-time stats and charts tracking coronavirus in Georgia For most, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and those with existing health problems are at risk of more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover in a matter of weeks. As numbers spike across the state, Gov. Brian Kemp is urging Georgians to stay home and practice social distancing. At a town hall broadcast Thursday evening, Kemp told residents to heed directives to avoid more restrictive measures, such as a statewide stay-at-home mandate. » RELATED: Kemp urges Georgians to heed virus warnings but balks at drastic steps Bars and nightclubs remain closed across the state, many public gatherings are banned, and the elderly and medically fragile are ordered to shelter in place. » PHOTOS: Metro Atlanta adjusts to shifts in daily life amid coronavirus crisis Many metro Atlanta cities and counties have issued their own stay-at-home orders to residents, shutting down nonessential businesses and imposing curfews. » MORE: DeKalb County issues stay-at-home order Speaking on CNN Saturday morning, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said metro Atlanta’s hospitals are already nearing capacity.  “...We are a large urban city in an even larger metropolitan area, so on a good day our hospitals and our ICU beds are at a premium,” she said. “What people have to realize is strokes don’t stop, diabetes and these things that send people into our emergency rooms, these things continue. It’s stressing our health care system and you add this pandemic on top of it and we have a real problem of it brewing right here in Atlanta.” » RELATED: Bottoms: Stay home so others ‘have an opportunity to simply live’ Those who believe they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 are asked to contact their primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic. Do not show up unannounced at an emergency room or health care facility. Georgians can also call the state COVID-19 hotline at 844-442-2681 to share public health information and connect with medical professionals.  — Please return to AJC.com for updates.