Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson announced a series of orders to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. At a press conference Monday evening, Wilson said the department is aware of 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, but that number is certain to be a “major underrepresentation.”
“Based on our initial disease investigations,” Wilson said, “we do believe that we now have community spread within Jefferson County.”
He said the county has been issuing quarantine orders to people who have tested positive for the virus, and to those with whom they have been in direct contact. Still, Wilson estimated coronavirus cases will double every two days if action is not taken.
“We need to take drastic efforts to avoid contact with one another, contact with people that might have the disease, so that we can slow down the spread,” Wilson said.
For residents of Jefferson County, what once were recommendations have become official orders.
Beginning Tuesday, March 17, all gatherings of 25 people or more are prohibited countywide. All senior centers, where senior adults gather for social activities, shall be closed. All nursing homes and long-term care facilities must prohibit all visitors with limited exceptions, such as end of life situations. These orders are to remain until further notice, officials said.
Also effective Tuesday, all Jefferson County bars, breweries and restaurants are to prohibit in-person dining and drinking for one week. During this time, establishments can still offer take-out and delivery and are “strongly encouraged” to offer online ordering and curbside pick-up. Hospital food service areas are exempt from this order.
Beginning Thursday, March 19, all Jefferson County private schools, preschools and daycare centers with 12 or more children must close until April 6, at which point officials may determine to extend the order.
Wilson said the orders are “legally binding” and can be enforced with a court order. He said staff with the Jefferson County Department of Health will make in-person visits to ensure restaurants and childcare centers understand and follow the orders.
“I know this has a big impact on our community,” Wilson said. “We all have to work together … We can make a big difference in the outcome of this, but we must act now.”
Several local leaders joined Wilson at the press conference, including Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway and Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker. They said the county will establish a Joint Information Center to streamline the flow of information related to the coronavirus.
Wilson said he “would not be surprised” if these orders are soon adopted statewide.