County officials announce 5 new coronavirus cases

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) — The city and county of San Diego declared public health emergencies Thursday, banning all mass gatherings of 250 or more people and announcing five new confirmed coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours.

Those five cases include a woman in her 70s who was aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship and is in home isolation; a man in his 50s with a travel history to Colorado; a man in his 40s with a possible travel history to Colorado who is under investigation; a woman in her 70s — an evacuee from the Grand Princess cruise ship — who was quarantined in Miramar and is now in isolation at a local hospital; and a man in his 50s who is in the hospital in isolation and who public health officials believe may be a community transmission.

This last case is especially concerning for city and county health, as it means the respiratory illness known as COVID-19 is “very likely” spreading among the community at large.

“We are issuing a public health order in the county of San Diego, effective midnight tonight, that any gathering of 250 or more people is banned in effect through the end of March,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

The city of San Diego’s representative immediately followed Fletcher’s remarks at a news conference, with Mayor Kevin Faulconer declaring a public health emergency in the city.

“I am issuing a state of emergency, effective today,” he said. “This is a procedural action, which means we can act swiftly. This will allow us to respond to situations as they arise.”

Some of those actions could be issuing emergency contracts, and working with city employees to guarantee essential city services continue.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s health officer, was clear about the implications of the community-transferred case.

“We will have deaths,” she said. “I am issuing a health officer order to ban mass gathering as defined by the state of California.”

What all three health orders and declarations of emergency mean is that gatherings larger than 250 people are canceled and violators can face legal repercussions.

Despite the hard 250-person ceiling, Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District Cindy Marten — who was recently granted emergency powers to address the virus by the school board — was cagey on what that meant for schools.

“It’s important to be prepared. We have plans to support our most vulnerable students,” she said. “All decisions are made in concert with our public health agencies.”

Dr. Nick Yphantides, the county’s chief medical officer, put an immediate restriction on visitations to assisted-living homes, and enacted a public health order that employees of those facilities feeling ill must remain home in quarantine.

He said that with 4,200 total hospital beds in the county, cases would be triaged as they arrive. Those over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions or with suppressed immune systems would be treated first. Wooten said that those with symptoms similar to a bad cold or influenza would be sent home to self-quarantine.

Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke Thursday on the disembarkation process of Grand Princess cruise ship and its potential cases of COVID-19.

“We are aware of a number of people who have tested positive that have come off ship in addition to the 21 who were originally tested,” Gov. Newsom said. “Two that were passengers, 19 that were crew members, one in Canada and one down in Miramar, but that information is coming in real time. That’s all I know about those individuals at this stage.”

More than 300 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship in Oakland will remain at MCAS Miramar on Thursday as part of a mandatory 14-day quarantine period at the base. The roughly 270 cruise ship evacuees arrived at the base Wednesday afternoon, joining 42 passengers who arrived Tuesday.

The total number expected to be housed on the base is around 400, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, but it was not immediately clear when the rest of the cruise ship evacuees were expected to arrive.

More than 1,000 people on the cruise ship — on which at least 21 people tested positive for the virus — disembarked Tuesday, another 407 disembarked Monday.

The ship, which had roughly 3,500 people aboard — at least 900 of them Californians — was held off the coast of Northern California before it was allowed to dock in Oakland Monday.

Tuesday’s group of 42 Southern California residents who were aboard the ship arrived at MCAS Miramar around 9:30 p.m. on a flight from Oakland to begin a 14-day quarantine, during which they will be monitored to determine if they develop any symptoms.

Col. Charles Dockery, commanding officer MCAS Miramar, sent a letter to Marines, sailors and their families.

“The broad concept of our support will be the same as our previous efforts,” he wrote. “As with the previous mission, all passengers entering quarantine will have been deemed asymptomatic by health care professionals. Passengers will remain quarantined throughout the 14-day period and there will be no contact with DOD personnel.”

Other California residents from the cruise ship will be housed at Travis Air Force Base northeast of Oakland.

Cruise ship passengers who are residents of other states were being taken to Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

This is the second time Miramar has been used as a quarantine facility due to coronavirus. More than 200 people who were evacuated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — were housed at the facility last month. Two of those people eventually tested positive for the virus, but they were hospitalized and have since recovered and been released.

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