SAN DIEGO — San Diego County Chairman Greg Cox and Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten were joined Thursday by medical, education and business leaders to provide an update on efforts to prepare the community for the potential emergence of the COVID-19 virus.

"The appearance of this novel coronavirus in our community is very likely and regional efforts to prepare and respond are on the rise," according to a county statement.

Cox opened the midday media conference by encouraging people to remain clear-headed about the spread of coronavirus. He said San Diego is working with federal, state and local officials and agencies on the issue. 

"Protecting the public's health and safety is the number one priority for all of us," said Cox. 

Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Department of Public Health, and the local medical community, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency has a plan in place to identify, isolate, inform and investigate a possible case of this respiratory illness.

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Dr. Wilma Wooten spoke about the latest statistics on coronavirus in the United States noting that the numbers have been changing frequently. 

"We feel it is only a matter of time before we see cases in San Diego," said Dr. Wooten. "Therefore, the time to prepare is now."

Wooten then went on to discuss the key messages authorities wanted to share with San Diego. 

First, she emphasized the importance of preventing illness by practicing good hand hygiene. She recommended people wash their hands for at least 20 seconds - or the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. She also encouraged people to avoid touching their face including their eyes, nose, and mouth after being in the public. 

Wooten also recommended people clean their workspaces and avoid going to work if you become ill. 

"When you are sick at home, separate yourself from family members to prevent them from getting sick as well," said Wooten. 

On Thursday morning, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 3123, which would protect workers from retaliation if they take leave during public health emergencies.

Wooten also directed people to visit the Centers for Disease Control's website to stay informed and find guidance, and to visit the county's website for fact sheets, a consumer version of the county's COVID-19 response plan and daily updates. If you have questions, you can also call 2-1-1 in San Diego.

Over the weekend, 141 people were placed under public health supervision in the county because they were at risk of having been exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to county health officials.

Scripps Health, which has five hospital locations in San Diego County, announced Thursday it is restricting visitor conditions at its campuses, including turning away visitors with fever or respiratory symptoms and children ages 14 and younger. The restrictions are in effect at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas and Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla.

The first U.S. death from the disease was reported Saturday in the Pacific Northwest. As of Wednesday evening, 11 people had died from the illness, including a person outside Sacramento, the first outside of Washington.

Officials said the patient, a 71-year-old man, was probably exposed to coronavirus while on a cruise from San Francisco to Mexico sometime between Feb. 11 to Feb. 21. California Governor Gavin Newsom said "at least" half of the thousands of passengers are Californians, not counting crew members.

Then, more passengers boarded that same cruise ship for a trip to Hawai'i. That cruise was supposed to return to California on Wednesday evening, but that arrival is now delayed until further testing is done. Newsom said some of the current passengers are showing possible symptoms.

Governor Newsom declared a statewide emergency Wednesday due to the threat of the new coronavirus, becoming third US state to do so. 

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A spokesperson for the San Diego Tourism Authority issued a statement following the San Diego County media briefing on Thursday:

"The health and safety of both visitors to the San Diego region and local residents is the highest priority for the San Diego Tourism Authority. We are working closely with both travel industry and health officials locally and nationally to monitor the evolving COVID-19 situation and any impacts to visitors traveling to San Diego and share information with the public. For visitors concerned about travel to San Diego, we are sharing the most current updates and resources via our website.”

A report from San Diego County health officials last week said there were no confirmed positive cases in the county, except for two cases of people who were under federal quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after repatriation flights from Wuhan, China, on Feb. 5 and Feb. 7. Test results in San Diego County are still pending for five people, including Customs and Border Protection and Immigration Customs Enforcement detainees.

Thirteen patients tested negative in the county, the report said, of a total of 18 people tested.

San Diego County health authorities offered the following information on symptoms and an preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak should it occur. 

What Residents Can Expect If They Come Down With COVID-19

Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have reported symptoms ranging from mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms generally include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath/difficulty breathing

At this time, the CDC believes that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

What Residents Can Do to Prepare for COVID-19

It’s important for the public to be prepared should a COVID-19 outbreak occur in San Diego County. To limit the spread of infection, you should:

  • Wash your hands often to help protect you from germs.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, if soap and water are not available. It should contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home and keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then wash your hands.
  • Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

Here's how you can lessen your coronavirus worries and stay healthy: