Dr. Wilma Wooten
Dr. Wilma Wooten at Wednesday’s briefing. Image from live stream

San Diego County’s public health officer issued a new health order Wednesday prohibiting most gatherings of 10 or more to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The new order came as the number of cases grew by 20 to 80 by late Wednesday afternoon. The latest number included 67 San Diego County residents, 5 people in the federal quarantine at Miramar, and 8 non-residents, primarily Navy personnel.

Dr. Wilma Wooten said the new order affects gatherings in a single room or single space at the same time, but does not apply to airports, transit systems or essential businesses where people can maintain social distance. The previous limit was 50 people.

The order also closes all gyms and fitness centers and restricts child care to “stable” groups of 10 or fewer children — meaning the same group of children with the same
childcare professional each day. The health order goes into effect at midnight.

“While the county is not at this time recommending shelter in place…we are asking all San Diego residents to refrain from gatherings of 10 or more individuals,” she said. “And we continue to strongly recommend that all non-essential gatherings of any size be discouraged.”

The new order follows the federal government’s recent direction to limit gatherings of 10 or more.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county has lined up 1,472 motel rooms for individuals who need to be isolated but do not have access to housing.

He said that the new public health order reflects a belief among medical professionals that the actual number of coronavirus cases is much higher because of the lack of testing.

“Today’s actions represent  a continued escalation of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak in proportion to the continued escalation in the numbers,” said Fletcher. “We need folks to heed these warnings.”

Updated at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 18, 2020

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