With 1st death, 42 cases in Georgia, schools begin closing

Legislature suspending session; metro Atlanta schools and state universities close for 2 weeks

Students wait outside at Woodland Middle School in East Point, Ga., Monday, March 9, 2020. The Fulton County School system has decided to close schools for two weeks. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Students wait outside at Woodland Middle School in East Point, Ga., Monday, March 9, 2020. The Fulton County School system has decided to close schools for two weeks. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA – After Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that a 67-year-old man who was hospitalized became first death from coronavirus, many of the state’s largest school districts announced plans to close indefinitely.

The man tested positive for the virus March 7 and was hospitalized at WellStar Kennestone in Marietta, according to the governor.

Kemp said the man had “underlying medical conditions,” but he did not say what they were or how the man may have contracted the illness.

“I know the medical professionals on site did everything that they could, and I greatly appreciate their efforts,” Kemp said in a statement.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan announced Thursday that Georgia’s legislative session would be suspended after Friday and until further notice. Duncan said the decision was made out of an abundance of caution and in coordination with Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston.

“This thing is going to end sometime soon, don’t y’all agree with me?” Ralston asked, drawing applause from the chamber and the handful of people in an unusually depopulated gallery. “When it does, we’re going to be back and ready to go.”

Before Thursday, legislative leaders had planned to end the session on April 2.

School districts and day care centers should consider closing for two weeks starting tomorrow, the governor said at a news conference later, though he stressed he was not ordering them to do so.

More than a dozen school districts across metro Atlanta announced they would close for two weeks or until further notice, with most schools saying they hoped to continue delivering lessons online to more than 700,000 students. Most schools asked students to attend one last day on Friday, saying they would make provisions for students without home computers. Larger school districts outside of metro Atlanta are mostly staying open, though.

Schools closing starting Monday for two weeks (unless otherwise noted) include: Barrow County, Barto County, Carroll County, Chattooga County, Cherokee County, Clarke County (only 1 week), Clayton County (until further notice), Cobb County (indefinitely), city of Decatur schools (until further notice), Douglas County, Fannin County (one week), Floyd County (until March 26), Forsythe County, Fulton County (until further notice), Gwinnett County (Friday until further notice), Habersham County (until March 27), Hall County (one week), Haralson County, Heard County, Jackson County, Lumpkin County (one week) Madison County, Monroe County (includes Friday), Morgan County (one week), Oconee County, Oglethorpe County, Paulding County, Pickens County, Polk County, Rome city schools (three weeks), Social Circle, White County (one week).

As of Friday morning, no school districts in Southeast Georgia have announced closures, although all athletic events and practices were suspended and in Ware and Glynn counties and fine art competitions in Ware County.

The University System of Georgia announced late Thursday that its 26 public colleges and universities would close for two weeks beginning Monday to test online instruction plans and watch the progress of the epidemic. Earlier Thursday, the system had said it intended to keep teaching classes on campus.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton also directed judges in the state to consider limiting non-essential courthouse functions. According to a statement, Melton held an emergency phone call with judges statewide and informed them Chief Judges in each judicial circuit can suspend jury trials, postpone court calendars or take other necessary steps to protect people.

Georgia has an initial solution for people who test positive for the virus but can’t stay at home and don’t require hospitalization: An isolated corner of a state park, where mobile housing units have been set up.

So far, the lone resident of the quarantine at Hard Labor Creek State Park is a military veteran who cooked at a Waffle House northwest of Atlanta. He doesn’t know how he contracted the illness.

“Every joint in my body hurt,” Joey Camp, 30, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I could not move a joint in my body from my ankles, up my back, arms -- could not without sharp pain.”

Camp, who served in Afghanistan and is from Cartersville, was staying with a friend who has an infant son, so he volunteered to be isolated away from home.

He said he’s been spending his time at the park taking antibiotics, watching Star Wars films on his cellphone and eating chili dogs and other take-out meals left for him by state health officials.

Georgia has been tracing contacts for 42 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 across about a dozen counties, including one in Charlton County, currently hospitalized in Camden County, and one in Valdosta. Several members of a church in Bartow County are infected, according to Kemp.

Some of the tests still await confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey was asked Thursday about whether Georgia had adequate testing capability for the virus.

The state will expand its capacity to 100 tests a day by the end of next week and officials think more commercial labs will offer the test as well, she said.

Separately, 124 passengers flown in from the Grand Princess in California are in a two-week quarantine at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, CDC spokesman Bert Kelly said.

For most people, this coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia.