Note: Things are changing by the hour. This article was written Wednesday morning with a few updates since.
The County of San Diego Monday afternoon issued sweeping orders designed to limit the numbers of people congregating almost anywhere. While public meetings of 50 or more are prohibited, the public is being strongly advised not to hold any kind of meeting that isn’t strictly necessary.
Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if the orders that you heard yesterday are very different from what you hear today or tomorrow. This is a very fluid situation and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances will help our people more than any other trait.
Here is a name that you should become familiar with, because you will be hearing her cited and quoted extensively as long as the coronavirus is a threat: Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County Public Health Officer. Dr. Wooten is the official in whose name the various orders are given.
Bars are being closed, and so are restaurants to any onsite dining. Customers will still be able pick up food directly or through a drive-through, although “social distancing” is being encouraged.
Public and private gatherings of more 50 than are banned. Even meetings of ten are discouraged.
UPDATE: As of Wednesday night, the ban has been extended to gatherings of ten or more people in one room and smaller groups must stay six feet apart to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the region.
UPDATE: As of Thursday night, the California Governor issued a “Stay Home” order. See article here.
The new guidance also requires: All gyms and fitness centers to close.
Day care must be limited to groups of up to 10 children in the same room and they must remain in same group each day, with the same staff person.
No word on whether families with large numbers of children will have to hold meals in separate buildings. Just kidding.
Monday’s update, and separate updates that have followed on a daily basis and have been broadcast online, were led by Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox, but dominated by Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who is the chairman of the County’s response to the outbreak.
Fletcher emphasized that “We’re all working together,” but noted that the County’s directives are “legally enforceable to our region.” The purpose, said Fletcher, “is to do the most good for the most people to flatten the curve.”
The “curve” he referred to is the line of numbers of cases in the United States, and, of course, locally. Right now the number of confirmed cases in U.S. like many nations, when plotted on a graph looks like a rocket trajectory. It is increasing at an exponential rate.
Many people have difficulty putting their brains around exponential numbers, but a good example is a number that doubles, or close to doubles, every day. Such a number could start at 2 but reach 256 in a week. The increase of the coronavirus is like that, left unchecked.
During his talk Fletcher revealed that the County is installing 238 handwashing stations around the region. He extorted his listeners to, “Please heed the guidance. Please practice safe hygiene and please practice social distancing. We need to do everything we can to halt the spread the spreading of the disease. We will get through this. Let’s help each other. Let’s be calm and let’s be safe.”
Fletcher, a combat veteran, compared our shared experience to serving in war. “Being in the combat setting is the closest thing in terms of everchanging information,” he said. “And you are making a series of decisions. Also like a combat environment you have a team. This is not a jurisdictional issue or a partisan issue, it is making the best of it.”
Fletcher said, “We are making the actions with the advice and help of our public health experts but all of us have a complete understanding that any of this can change, could be more restrictive.”
The 11 main points of the proclamation are as follows:
1. All public or private “gatherings,” as defined in section 20 below, are prohibited. All non-essential gatherings of any size are strongly discouraged.
2. All bars, adult entertainment establishments, and other business establishments that serve alcohol and do not serve food, shall close.
3. All restaurants and other business establishments that serve food shall close all on-site dining. All food served shall be by delivery, or through pick-up or drive thru. Social distancing shall be required for persons picking up food on site.
4. All businesses shall enact social distancing, increased sanitation standards, and shall make every effort to use telecommuting for its workforce. All businesses shall suspend any policy or procedure requiring doctor verification for sick or other leave approval.
5. All public or private schools, colleges, and universities shall not hold classes or other school activities where students gather on the school campus. Parents of school-aged minor children shall take steps to ensure said children are not participating in activities prohibited by the Order and that social distancing requirements are practiced.
6. A strong recommendation is made that all persons who are 65 years old or older, have a chronic underlying condition, or have a compromised immune system self-quarantine themselves at home.
7. “Non-essential personnel,” [“Non-essential personnel” are employees, contractors, or members of the public who do not perform treatment, maintenance, support, or administrative tasks deemed essential to the healthcare mission of the] are prohibited from entry into any hospital or long-term care facility. All essential personnel who show any potential signs or symptoms of COVID-19 shall be strictly prohibited from entry into hospitals or long-term care facilities.
8. Hospitals and healthcare providers shall take measures to preserve resources including delaying non-emergent or elective surgeries or procedures where feasible.
9. Hospitals, healthcare providers, and commercial testing laboratories shall report all COVID-19 test results to the Public Health Officer immediately after such results are received.
10. All persons arriving in the county, from locations as found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Warning Level 3 Travel Advisory shall be subject to 14- day home quarantine, self-monitoring. This includes originating or connecting flights through these countries and includes South Korea, Japan, Italy, China and Iran, and any other country that is subsequently added to that list, which is available at: (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices).
11. A strong recommendation is made for persons exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate themselves in their place of residence unless seeking medical treatment.
Fletcher said the County is especially aware of the dangers of the virus to the homeless population and is installing hand-washing stations at hundreds of locations throughout the county. “We stand by ready for additional requests [for such stations,]” he said. They will also deliver 1,300 hygiene kits to the homeless. The County has secured more than 200 hotel rooms that are available to homeless residents who are undergoing investigation or have taken tests for the virus and are awaiting results.
“Our aim is to acquire two thousand hotel rooms,” said Fletcher, noting that the state of California is acquiring even more than that statewide.”
He added, “We are encouraging people to stay home and binge watch Netflix.”
The County is also encouraging people to donate blood so it can maintain an adequate supply.
Fletcher concluded that traditionally people come together in events such as candlelight vigils, but that this kind of emergency they can’t do that. “We are still asking to come together, just come together in a different way, have a shared set of purpose,” he said. “Not just to protect yourself but others. Being anxious or afraid will not stop you from getting this.”
He introduced Dr. Wooten, who will be part of the daily updates. “The current situation is changing every minute, from hour to hour,” she said. She quoted some figures for worldwide deaths and nationwide deaths that will already be obsolete when you read this.
She added, “We may be back with even more enhanced or more restrictive orders. We do recognize that nationwide we may get to the point where we have a countrywide lockdown.”