Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough signed an amended occupancy order lowering the attendance limit at public gatherings to less than 50 people March 16, days after issuing a disaster declaration prohibiting public gatherings of 250 people or more within the county.

Keough said he signed the new order, effective at 5 p.m. March 16, in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The guidelines follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's March 15 recommendation that in-person gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks.

The order bans all events in the county that are permitted or sponsored by local governments and restricts gatherings in public facilities to below the 50-person limit. The order also bans gatherings of 50 people or more that include anyone at higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus, such as seniors or those with chronic medical conditions.

In the order, Keough appealed for the cancelation of private gatherings of 50 people or more as well. He also urged private businesses, restaurants, clubs and places of worship to comply with the CDC's 50-person limit. Stores selling groceries and medical supplies remain exempt from the cap.

The order also does not apply to law enforcement, emergency services, court, or public and private school activities, Keough wrote. County employees are required to work as mandated by their supervisors, while ceasing all work-related travel.

The order will remain in effect until April 12, unless it is rescinded or amended before that time.

As of 10:30 a.m. March 16, the Montgomery County Public Health District reported the county has four presumptive coronavirus cases, although none have been confirmed by the CDC. The cases include two men in their 40s from the northwest county area, one woman in her 40s from the northwest county connected to one of the men and one woman in her 40s from the southwest county area. Two of the patients remain in critical condition, while the other two remain in good condition, the health district said.

In a comment on his Facebook post sharing the amended March 16 order, Keough called for residents to remain calm and to follow the gathering guidelines.

"I have spoken to no less than 30 medical experts locally in the last two days who are all urging that we social distance ourselves from others. The capacity of our hospitals cannot accommodate a surge of critical patients if this get worse as expected. Additionally, I know [four] positive test results are making folks believe this is nothing, but there are hundreds of pending test[s] and I can't make the labs move any faster," Keough said in the Facebook comment. "I am working around the clock with my team to ensure we do everything in our power to slow this down and allow our health care system the flexibility to absorb those who need hospital services. I know it's difficult and some don't like these actions, but they're done to protect life and the well being of our citizens."