Evidence of community spread has prompted Dallas County to take drastic steps in preventing additional cases of the novel coronavirus.

At an emergency 10 p.m. news conference, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced that five new presumptive positive cases have been identified in Dallas County. This is in addition to the three presumptive positives already announced earlier this week.

The five new patients consist of a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 70s, and three men–one each in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Four of the patients are from Dallas, and one is from Balch Springs. One person has no recent domestic or international travel history, Jenkins said.

Two of the five have been hospitalized, and the other three are in home isolation, Jenkins said.

An emergency declaration order will go into effect at 11 a.m. March 13 that bans public and private community gatherings of 500 people or more. The order will remain in effect until at least March 20 and could be extended beyond that, officials said.

The county is also strongly discouraging those gatherings with 250 people or more, Jenkins said.

“It is imperative the public do their part in following this community gathering order,” he said. “I know Dallas County is up to the challenge.”

Community gatherings include indoor and outdoor events taking place in auditoriums, theaters, stadiums, arenas, meeting halls, conference centers and large cafeterias. Spaces exempted from the order include airports, transit terminals, grocery stores, shopping malls, retail establishments, hospital and medical facilities, Jenkins said.

Prior to these new cases, Dallas County was in containment mode, said Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s Health and Human Services director. Now that there is evidence of community transmission, social distancing and mitigation efforts are needed to slow the spread of the virus, he said.

Social distancing efforts are intended to protect populations at high risk, which include people age 60 or older. The death rate from coronavirus is between 4%-15% for that group, Huang said.

The county is strongly advising against gatherings of 10 people or more for people age 60 and older.

“If it gets into our nursing home and to our older than 60 population, it will be deadly, and we have to do everything we can to keep that from happening,” Jenkins said.

The mitigation efforts are also intended to protect health care workers and to reduce the burden on medical facilities, Huang said.

“This is meant to slow this down so that our health care system isn’t overwhelmed as we’ve seen in other countries and systems,” he said.

A copy of the order will be made available on the Dallas County Health and Human Services website, Jenkins said.