04/03/20: COVID-19 statement from Dr. Gary Voccio, health director, Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District
Just about everyone in our public health office is feeling that knot in our stomachs, so we know a lot of other people must be feeling it, too. And rightly so! This is a frightening time.
We’re going to have tough days ahead as we all have friends, neighbors, or loved ones who will get sick and perhaps die from this virus. We will limit the pain, but, sadly, we will have lots of pain. However, we can and will get through this.
There is community spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in Northwest Georgia. We now have confirmed COVID-19 cases in each of our ten Northwest Health District counties. As we do more testing, we will confirm more cases. Sadly, we’ve had more deaths, too, and expect more.
I want everyone to understand that anyone, anywhere could currently be infected with the virus, perhaps not even having or showing any symptoms. Anyone, anywhere could become infected by someone else.
So, we can’t let our guard down. Rather, we must double down on social distancing or what I prefer to call safe physical distancing. Whatever you call it, it’s an enormously powerful tool.
For those still on the sidelines, I’d like to tell them now’s the time to really embrace this. It’s not just a little recommendation on a piece of paper. This is a very powerful weapon that will shut this outbreak down sooner rather later.
This virus cannot go from person to person that easily. It needs us to be close. It needs us to be within six feet. If we just distance ourselves, this virus can’t sustain itself.
With no changes to our behavior, one infected person will, on average, pass the virus to 2.5 people within five days. After 30 days, that figure would rise to a devastating 406 new infections.
However, with a 50 percent reduction of our social interactions, the number of new infections caused by the average infected person after 30 days is just 15 people. A 75 percent change would result in an even lower 2.5 new cases, greatly reducing the burden on our health care services and, if followed by everybody, help flatten the curve of new infections.
We need to remember that this virus is transmissible in droplets that are expelled by the cough or sneeze of an infected person and that these droplets can linger on hard surfaces for up to six hours. The virus may also linger in the air for several hours. Which is why we need to frequently and thoroughly wash our hands (and avoid touching our faces) and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
We are not powerless. We, as individuals and as a community, do have control over this. These changes to our usual way of life will require sacrifice, yet we must make them right now even though the effects won’t be seen until weeks, or months, down the road.
Please take this to heart. If you haven’t already, immediately begin aggressively practicing safe physical (or social) distancing. Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Avoid touching your face. Cleanse high-touch places and follow the directives of Governor Kemp’s statewide shelter-in-place executive order. Stay away from others, stay home, and stay healthy.