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Gov. Brian Kemp named an 18-member task force Friday to handle Georgia’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The governor acted following a morning phone conversation with Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the Trump administration’s federal response effort to the virus, which also goes by the name COVID-19.
“The Trump administration understands that states and local governments are standing on the front lines of COVID-19,” Kemp said. “In accordance with the administration’s initiatives, Georgia’s coronavirus task force represents a coalition of subject-matter experts from the private and public sectors who will work together on preventative measures, strategic deployment of resources and collaboration across all levels of government.”
As of Friday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia. Fourteen cases of the virus – which originated in China – have been diagnosed in the United States.
“We’re asking everyone to remain calm,” Kemp told reporters during a briefing Friday afternoon. “We have no confirmed cases in Georgia, but we want to be prepared for whatever comes our way.”
The new task force will include Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency; Felipe den Brok, director of Atlanta’s Office of Emergency Preparedness; state Attorney General Chris Carr; Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health; and Cherie Drenzek, the state epidemiologist.
From the General Assembly, Kemp named House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, to the task force, along with Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Ben Watson, R-Savannah.
From academia, the governor tapped Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the University System of Georgia; Greg Dozier, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia; and state School Superintendent Richard Woods.
Health-care professionals on the task force include John Haupert, CEO of Grady Health System, and Dr. Colleen Kraft, director of Emory University’s Clinical Virology Research Laboratory.
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“We have a robust plan in place,” Toomey said. “We’re working with other state agencies and partners to make sure we have all the systems in place to respond.”
Toomey said the state is working with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify travelers returning to Georgia, particularly from China.
Toomey said the best way to keep from getting the virus is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water and avoid touching your mouth or nose. To prevent spreading the virus, she said Georgians should stay home when they’re sick and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.