A public health order for San Diego County, which had already established strict rules for residents in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, was amended Wednesday to include even more limitations on public gatherings and local businesses.
San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten updated the order to restrict gatherings of 10 or more and ordered all local gyms and fitness centers to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has infected at least 80 people within the county as of Wednesday evening.
The order, which was first issued on Monday, had already prohibited gatherings of 50 or more, ordered bars to close and restricted restaurants from offering dine-in options.
Under the new guidance, people should only be out if necessary, for example, to get food and other essentials, to care for a family member, to get medical attention or if you are an essetential employee, according to the county.
While not fully banned, any gathering of less than 10 people should be limited. Those that do occur should ensure people stay six feet apart to prevent the spread of the disease called COVID-19.
Because of the county's guidance to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer, preschools and daycare centers -- which were not closed because their operation was considered essential -- were ordered to make changes to the way they care for children, including limiting kids to interact within the same group of 10 every day.
Casinos across San Diego County, including the Sycuan, Barona, Golden Acorn, Jamul and Viejas casinos jointly announced their facilities would close until at least March 31 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The health orders banning gatherings do not apply to public transit, airports or any other mass transportation, Wooten said. The Metropolitan Transit System said it would continue running buses and trolleys at least until March 31 with ramped up sanitization procedures on vehicles and at stations.
Wooten said the county of San Diego was not yet at a point where a shelter-in-place order similar to the one issued in the Bay Area was necessary, but residents should be prepared for the possibility.
She was expected to meet via phone conference with other Southern California health officers Wednesday evening to determine what could warrant a shelter-in-place for the region, noting that “its not just a public health decision."
San Diego County Health and Human Service Agency's (HHSA) infectious disease specialist Dr. Eric McDonald said residents should be prepared for the "eventuality."
“If I was a person at home, hearing the messages that we're giving, that I would think that it is highly likely or possible in the future that that would occur,” McDonald said.
Residents were again encouraged to be prepared with enough food, water and medication for their family and pets for two weeks.
County officials reminded residents that the public health order was necessary to "flatten the curve" of the coronavirus outbreak, a term used among health experts to show how extreme measures can alter the outcome of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the county reported 80 cases in San Diego County since Feb. 14, including 5 cases from federal quarantine and eight cases among non-San Diego County residents.
McDonald said, while the number is accurate, it may not be indicative of the actual spread of COVID-19 among the community. The number could be much higher but he is hopeful that community members with symptoms who are not at risk are following the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to self-isolate instead of overwhelming the health care system.
"I would only interpret the numbers as the tip of an iceberg in terms of the cases that are being reported versus that are actually in the community, which supports all the actions that we are taking in asking the public to do social distancing and adhere to the health officer order," McDonald said.
The infectious disease specialist said that it is not necessary for every patient to be tracked as long as they were following proper self-isolation procedures.
"I want people to get out of the idea that you have to have a test to know what to do," McDonald said. "You need to stay home if you’re sick. Be isolated. Do not interact with others if you have the signs and symptoms -- and you need to do that regardless," McDonald said. "People should take action based on the symptoms, not just the test results."
For the latest information on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting San Diego County, click here.