In a press release from the Sonoma County Health Department, Sonoma County Interim Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase announced Friday afternoon, March 13, that mass gatherings of 250 individuals or more in the county must be canceled. Additionally, the press release states that gatherings of 10 or more people who are at higher risk for illness must be canceled as well, with the exception of family gatherings. The order is part of an increasing effort to limit the possibility of community transmission of COVID-19.

“Implementing these strategies that create social distance and reduce the close contact of people not regularly together, including limiting gatherings, has proven effective in prior pandemics at delaying rates of transmission and reducing illness from communicable disease,” said Mase in a statement.

The order does not apply to regular school classes, work, courthouses, detention facilities or essential services and will be in effect until the order is rescinded by the county or state health officers.

A “gathering,” as defined in the county’s press release, is “any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria or any other indoor or outdoor space.”

The order to cancel such events came after guidance from California Governor Gavin Newsom, who on March 12 issued an executive order limiting non-essential gatherings.

“Non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people, while smaller events can proceed only if the organizers can implement social distancing of six feet per person,” it states. “Gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people, while also following social distancing guidelines.”

The morning of March 13, local senior centers also began canceling events. The Cloverdale Senior Center sent out an announcement that it would be suspending all of its classes and events, the Healdsburg Senior Center announced that it would also be suspending its programming, and the Sebastopol Area Senior Center announced that it would be closing its doors temporarily. All three senior center announcements are in effect through March 31.

Locally, Sonoma County still only has three cases of COVID-19 reported (two “presumptive positive” and one positive). While tests are available in the county through medical providers, wide-spread county testing for the virus isn’t currently available.

Beginning on March 13, the county began a program to test 60 to 80 patients that had flu-like symptoms for the virus. The testing was scheduled to take place at three to four medical facilities throughout the county and will include both patients with underlying medical conditions and those without.

On March 14, an announcement from Fourth District Supervisor James Gore stated that drive-thru testing is available at Sutter, and that there are plans for it to be available at Alliance and Petaluma Health Care. Testing is also available through local commercial laboratories, and all testing is being conducted through healthcare providers based on clinical determination.

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