Testing for coronavirus
Lab technicians test for coronavirus. Courtesy California Department of Public Health

San Diego County banned gathings of 50 or more and limited restaurants to take-out only as 16 more coronavirus cases were reported on Monday.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher outlined 11 new public health orders that limit gatherings, end dining in restaurants, prohibit school classes, require self-quarantine in the case of symptoms, limit non-essential access to hospitals and nursing homes, postpone elective surgery, and require travelers from Italy and other epidemic clusters to self quarantine.

The legally enforceable steps are intended to slow the growth of the pandemic, which stood at only 11 cases on Friday but had grown to 55 on Monday. That number included 47 county residents, four people in the federal quarantine at Miramar and four people from outside of the area.

San Diego County orders on coronavirus response. (PDF)

“We have the ability to slow the spread of it by the actions we as individuals take,” said Fletcher. “We are asking people to heed this advice.”

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said the pandemic situation is changing from hour-to-hour and recommended that residents try to avoid gatherings of any size during this period.

“We are strongly recommending that any gatherings of any size if they are not essential — don’t do them,” said Wooten.

She said everyone is vulnerable, with local patients ranging in age from their early 20s to 80s and living in all areas of the county.

“This virus does not discriminate,” she said. “We know that more cases will occur. We know that deaths will occur.”

Officials said tests remain in short supply and should only be used for people with pronounced symptoms. The procedure for testing is to contact a primary care provider.

“Only those who need medical attention need testing,” said Eric McDonald, county medical director of epidemiology and immunization. “If you have no symptoms, you don’t need testing. If you have mild symptoms, you don’t need testing. Just self-isolate at home.”

The county’s public health lab can process 120 tests a day. McDonald said he hoped over the next week or two that number would increase to 500 daily.

The 50-person limit includes businesses, and Wooten said many in the county will need to adjust their operations to comply and help stop the spread of the virus.

Fletcher said the county is locating increased hospital facilities, including 237 motel rooms for homeless people with symptoms and the possible use of the Navy’s USNS Mercy hospital ship.

Supervisor Greg Cox said the county had placed more than 180 handwashing stations around the county and would install another 58 by the end of the day.

“We are trying to do the most good for the most people to help flatten the (epidemic growth) curve,” Cox said. “I know that peoples’ lives are being upended…but we will get through this.”

Updated at 5:35 p.m., Monday, March 16, 2020

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.