EL CENTRO — Easter is likely to come and go well before communities see a return to normalcy and the end of social distancing precautions.

That was an opinion that came through clearly in a press teleconference held Saturday with Imperial County’s top health official, Dr. Stephen Munday.

Munday told members of the local media the community appears to be in the acceleration phase of the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). That certainly has been borne out so far with a jump from nine to 25 positive cases in the county since Tuesday.

Despite President Donald Trump’s hopeful notion that the U.S. economy will be “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Munday and many other health officials nationwide are predicting a longer slog.

For his part, Munday speculated the danger will persist at least through April and possibly through May. “It’s hard to say how long this is going to go on,” he said. “It could be a process of several months.”

Munday declined to provide more details regarding the positive cases in Imperial County due to patient confidentiality issues. He did say the virus is in a phase of community transmission, but because the current data sample is so small, it’s impossible to draw meaningful conclusions about how COVID-19 is moving through the community.

Munday ventured the rate of local transmission may have been slowed so far by the county’s population size and density. However, he added, the county’s proximity to the border does place it near a potential hotspot.

Although the number of cases remains comparatively low, they are undoubtedly going to increase, he said, particularly as more testing locations and materials become available.

Limited quantities of testing materials and other resources has kept protocols strict in terms of how testing is administered. Current standards from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health confine testing to symptomatic patients believed to be at high risk, such as close contact with a known positive patient, or whose symptoms can’t be attributed to cold, flu or other respiratory conditions.

Currently, ICPDH is sending all samples to a lab in San Diego for results, but Munday said the local health department is making preparations to do its own lab testing. The timetable for when that would begin largely boils down to resolving supply chain issues and the testing materials becoming more readily available, he said. Meanwhile, more private laboratory testing has been coming online as well, he said.

In the meantime, the public should be conducting themselves on the assumption everyone they come in contact with potentially has been exposed to COVID-19 and practicing the social distancing measures directed by the state.

“These are not requests. They are orders,” Munday said of the temporary rules governing public health. “They absolutely have a benefit.”

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