Worker at Georgia Waffle House tests positive for new coronavirus

ATLANTA, Ga. – A worker at a Georgia Waffle House has tested positive for the new coronavirus, prompting co-workers to quarantine themselves in their homes, company officials said Tuesday.

No workers from the restaurant in Canton, northwest of Atlanta, have shown signs of illness, the company said in a statement.

Late Tuesday Gov. Brian Kemp said in a press release that a patient from Cherokee County who tested positive for COVID-19 was being isolated at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge while being treated by medical professionals.

“This site was specifically chosen for its isolation from the general public and ability to house mobile units in the short term,” GEMA Director Homer Bryson said in the statement. The individual was not able to isolate at their primary residence and was not in critical condition requiring any hospital admittance. The park is closed to public access and monitored by state law enforcement 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the statement said.

Meanwhile, five more people in Georgia have tested positive for the new virus strain, as coronavirus fears spread to schools and the Georgia Capitol.

A total of 18 people, including this latest case, in Georgia have now tested positive, according to figures released late Monday, although some tests have yet to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 18 cases are from Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Fayette, Floyd, Fulton, and Polk counties, Kemp said.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.”

The Canton Waffle House was temporarily closed starting Monday, said Kelly Thrasher, a spokeswoman for the Norcross, Georgia-based company. She said the company plans to reopen the restaurant on Sunday. The infected employee worked only one day — on March 1 — during the past two weeks and hasn’t since worked at any company restaurant. A total of 12 workers are self-quarantining at home through Saturday, Thrasher said, and are being paid for shifts they were scheduled to work.

Jennifer King, a spokeswoman for the North Georgia Health District, declined comment on the specifics of the Waffle House case, but said the state Department of Public Health is working to identify contacts people may have had while infectious.

Thrasher said Waffle House is more frequently sanitizing surfaces in its 1,500 restaurants nationwide and removing condiments from tables, making them available only on request.

At the Georgia Capitol, Republican House Speaker David Ralston on Tuesday announced that the House page program will be suspended and visitors to the House floor will be limited. Members of the public will also be encouraged to watch proceedings via livestream rather than attending in person. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said pages and guests will still be welcome in the state Senate, but he is watching the situation.

One of the state’s largest school districts — Fulton County Schools — closed all its schools Tuesday after a teacher at two middle schools was found to have COVID-19. According to data kept by Education Week, Fulton County is the largest school district to close nationwide. All of the district’s schools with the exception of two will reopen on Thursday, the district said in a letter to parents.

The KIPP charter school network in metro Atlanta also closed its schools Tuesday. A child care center in Acworth also closed after a worker tested positive, and Cobb County closed a library branch where a worker had contact with a child from the day care.

Two other Georgia school systems told parents that employees had gone into self-quarantine after potential contact.

In Paulding County, west of Atlanta, parents at McGarity Elementary in Hiram were warned Monday that an employee is in self-quarantine after contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Officials said they fumigated the school Sunday.

The Harris County school district, just north of Columbus, announced Tuesday that a middle school teacher had made contact with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who has self-quarantined because of potential exposure. Collins is seeking a U.S. Senate seat and visited Columbus on Saturday for a Republican Party headquarters opening.

State Superintendent Richard Woods said in a Tuesday statement that schools should follow recommendations of health officials. “At this time, school closures are not recommended for other areas,” Woods said.

Voting officials were also taking precautions. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his office has sent guidance to counties about ongoing early voting for the state’s March 24 presidential primaries. The guidance includes wiping down voting machines and providing hand sanitizer to voters.

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