For this column, I am putting on the back burner all of the legislative highlights from the ninth week of the 2020 session of the Georgia General Assembly. 

I want to talk to you instead about the rapidly unfolding situation with the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

It may be tempting to wonder what all of the hullabaloo is about. We had one confirmed case here in Barrow County as of Tuesday, and the virus had made inroads in northeast Georgia with cases in Athens, Hall, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

But without widespread testing, we don't know the full extent of what we are facing at the moment. The picture should become clearer once testing is expanded in the coming days and weeks. 

In response to the seriousness of this evolving public health threat, there were several historic firsts that unfolded in rapid fashion from Thursday to Saturday at the State Capitol. 

On Thursday, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan announced the indefinite suspension of the ongoing legislative session. The announcement came on our busiest day — Crossover Day — which is the deadline for each chamber to pass its legislation. 

We worked very late that night. Along with many other bills, we approved an amended mid-year budget covering expenditures through June 30. The budget now includes a last-minute request from Gov. Brian Kemp to pull $100 million out of the Rainy Day Fund for the state’s response to the coronavirus emergency. Thanks to conservative budgeting since the Great Recession, that fund has well over $2 billion in it.

I got back home to Auburn at about 1 a.m. Friday. Then we learned Saturday of another historic first — that the governor had declared a Public Health State of Emergency that grants him the power to take strong actions even in the private sector, if necessary, to protect the public. 

The Georgia Constitution requires the legislature to affirm that declaration within two days. So we headed back to the Gold Dome early Monday for a Special Session for that vote. 

In yet another historic first over the weekend, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that Georgia’s presidential primary would be delayed until May 19. If you already have voted early, there is no need to vote again. Your early vote counts. 

Though some of this may seem extreme, I don’t think it is. Without question, it is a good thing for state and national leaders to address this public health threat head on.

But it is up to Georgia's citizens to stop the spread of COVID-19 through the Peach State. The Centers for Disease Control has told us how to do that:

•Wash our hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60-percent alcohol. Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Clean and disinfect frequently surfaces that are touched a lot.

•Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and put some distance between ourselves and others, especially if we are older or have a medical condition that puts us at higher risk of getting very sick from the virus. The CDC also recommends no public gatherings of 50 people or more for at least eight weeks. 

•If sick, stay home except to get medical care, but first call your doctor's office and then wear a facemask to prevent spreading the virus to others.

You can keep track of the unfolding situation by checking the Georgia Public Health Department's website at dph.georgia.gov. The number of cases, by county, is updated each day at noon.

It won’t be easy to change our daily habits and to explain to children why they can’t go to school or to the movies or to Grandma’s house.

But if we do our part now, our families and our community will get through this.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent District 116. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at 404-463-2245 or at terry@terryenglandforgeorgia.com. May God bless you and your family, this wonderful county, and our great state.

Rep. Terry England has served in the Georgia House since 2005. District 116 includes most of Barrow County. In addition to chairing the House Appropriations Committee, he is an ex-officio member of the Ways & Means Committee and a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, the Education Committee, the Industry and Labor Committee, and the Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

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