San Diego County leaders made drastic changes Monday to a public health order that was issued to prevent the spread of a novel coronavirus within the local community as its reach extends across the globe.
The most drastic changes included an order prohibiting public gatherings of 50 or more and an order mandating all bars that do not serve food and all dine-in restaurants to close. Restaurants will be allowed to serve food via drive-thru and pick-up only.
Gatherings of any size, though not prohibited, were also strongly discouraged in the public health order, which was scheduled to go into effect at midnight Tuesday and last through the month of March.
"Although we are moving the order from 250 to 50, we are strongly discouraging any gatherings of nonessential operations or nonessential functions," County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. "Nobody needs to have gatherings for St. Patrick’s Day."
The announcement came within hours of six Bay Area counties declaring a shelter-in-place, affecting about 7 million residents and Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said it was possible that a "countrywide lockdown is probably coming very soon."
The number of COVID-19 cases in San Diego County surged over the weekend, nearly doubling to 55 positive cases from Friday to Monday, according to the latest data from the County Health and Human Services Agency. There may be additional cases in San Diego County that are not being handled by HHSA, including some cases among U.S. service members.
The public health order, detailed at the first of what will be a daily press briefing from San Diego County public health leaders and county supervisors, added 11 items to the county's coronavirus-related regulations -- nine mandates and three strong recommendations. They are:
- All public and private gatherings of 50 or more are prohibited. The county had originally prohibited gatherings of 250 or more but changed the policy following new recommendations from the Centers for Disease and Prevention. All non-essential gatherings of any size are strongly discouraged
- Establishments that serve alcohol but no food are ordered to close. Restaurants must close all on-site dining, though ordering for pick up or drive-thru will still be allowed
- All businesses should enact social distancing, increase sanitation efforts and should use telecommuting when possible. Businesses that use policies requiring doctor’s notes for sick days should terminate the practice immediately
- Parents should ensure that their children are following
- Public and private schools, colleges and universities should cancel classes and activities that require gathering. It will be up to parents of minors to ensure their children aren't violating the order and that social distancing is utilized
- The County urges anyone age 65 years or older and those with underlying health issues or weakened immune systems to self-isolate
- Non-essential personnel are prohibited from entering hospitals or long-term care facilities. Any essential personnel that show symptoms of COVID-19 will be prohibited as well
- Hospitals and healthcare should take measures to preserve resources, including delaying nonemergency procedures where feasible
- Hospitals and health care providers must report all positive COVID-19 tests to the county immediately. This comes after private testing resources became available within the county
- All people arriving in the county from locations found on the CDC warning level 3 travel advisory list shall be subject to 14-day home quarantine and self-monitoring
- A strong recommendation for people exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate in their place of residence unless they must seek medical care/treatment
The city of San Diego heeded the county's warning and within hours, Mayor Kevin Faulconer had ordered all bars and restaurants to follow the public health order effective at midnight.
According to U.S Dept of Commerce, San Diego County has following numbers more than 182,000 workers in the food and hotel industry. It is not immediately clear how many would be affected by the more than two-week public health order.
San Diego County health officials said it is important to enact such sweeping legislation in order to "flatten the curve," a term recently used among health experts to show how extreme measures can alter the outcome of the pandemic.
"The goal is to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the pandemic so that many people don’t get sick at the same time and overwhelm the health care system," the San Diego County public health department said in a release Monday. "Should that occur, there might not be enough hospital beds or mechanical respirators for everyone who needs them."
People infected with COVID-19 show signs of fever, cough and shortness of breath, which typically appear two to 14 days after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Anyone showing symptoms should call their doctor immediately and avoid going out in public, the CDC said.
Those with moderate symptoms should self-isolate. Those with emergency symptoms -- such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or bluish lips or face -- should seek immediate medical attention.
For the latest information, visit the CDC website here.
Worldwide, the new coronavirus has infected nearly 180,000 people and caused more than 7,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization's numbers on Monday.
Get the latest information on how the coronavirus is affecting San Diego County here.