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SLO County residents ordered to shelter at home beginning 5 p.m. Thursday
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SLO County residents ordered to shelter at home beginning 5 p.m. Thursday

San Luis Obispo County officials on Wednesday ordered residents to stay in their homes around the clock for at least two weeks, with some exceptions, starting at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Wade Horton, County Emergency Services director, issued the order in partnership with the county's seven incorporated cities in an effort to contain COVID-19. 

A seventh case of coronavirus was confirmed Wednesday in San Luis Obispo County, a South County individual in their 40s with an underlying medical condition, said Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Public Health director. 

The order, which is consistent with others issued throughout the state, will remain in place for 30 days but will be re-evaluated after two weeks, Horton said.

Government operations will continue, he said, and “essential businesses” are encouraged to remain open, but all public and private gatherings outside the home of any number of people are prohibited except for limited purposes listed in the order.

Horton said he is expecting residents to "police themselves" in light of the order, which could be enforced with a misdemeanor citation, if necessary. 

“The health and safety of our community is our top priority,” Horton said. “The actions we take today will help us get back to normal as soon as possible. We made this decision to preserve our health-care system and ensure that we have the capacity to care for the sickest of the sick during this pandemic.”

Essential businesses are broad, according to San Luis Obispo County Counsel Rita Neal, and include grocery stores, certified farmers markets, laundry services, hardware stores, nonprofits and educational entities that provide essential services, banks, food banks, taxis, agricultural operations, auto repair shops, post offices, gas stations and restaurants, which can remain open for delivery and take-out only. 

Additionally, media is allowed to continue functioning, including newspapers, radio and television broadcasts. 

Professional services, such as for legal or accounting services, will continue to operate when they are necessary to comply with the order. 

Under the order, residents are allowed to leave their homes for "essential activities," which includes taking care of the health and safety of family members and pets, obtaining necessary goods and supplies, outdoor activity and for health-care appointments. 

Essential infrastructure activities — including public works projects and airports, will continue to function. 

Government services will be limited, although the County is leaving it up to local jurisdictions to define which ones are considered essential. Police, fire and social services will continue to function. 

The Sheriff’s Office will continue to provide full service to the county, said spokesman Tony Cipolla.

"We will maintain robust staffing in the field and the public should expect to see our deputies patrolling in their communities with no break in service," he said. "Additionally, we will have a high saturation of patrols targeted in the commercial corridors."

"First and foremost, we are asking all the citizens of the county to remain calm," Cipolla said. "We understand these are trying times. But remember, the Sheriff's Office mission is to provide service, security and safety to the community. And we can do that if we have everyone's cooperation in being responsible citizens."

Government workers, including first responders, will be allowed to leave their homes to continue their duties. 

Borenstein said the worst of the outbreak has yet to come and cases of coronavirus could potentially double each week. 

County government officials are acting aggressively to contain the spread of the virus so that the health-care system isn't overrun, Horton said. 

An emergency order of 100 ventilators was placed Tuesday at a cost of $500,000 and county officials are in the process of identifying supplemental medical care sites, he added.

Additionally, officials placed an order for FEMA trailers, Horton said.