County limits on social gatherings take effect

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Last week Yolo County issued an amended health order that followed the state’s lead in limiting no more than three households at social gatherings.

The state’s mandatory guidance, issued Oct. 9, limited social gatherings to three households, for two hours or less and outdoors only.

That state guidance, aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, is mandatory in all counties.

Last Tuesday, the county’s interim health officer, Dr. Larissa May, told the Yolo County Board of Supervisors she planned to issue slightly stricter guidance on gatherings that would limit to 16 the total number of people from three households allowed.

That guidance was issued the following Wednesday.

The new restrictions apply to everything from backyard barbecues and family Sunday dinners to business social gatherings such as holiday parties.

Industries that manage gatherings as part of their operations, such as wedding venues, restaurants and religious institutions, must continue to follow state and local guidance for their specific industries.

So if a three-household limit without restrictions on the number of people attending is good enough for the state, why the 16-person limit for Yolo County?

The answer lies in the county’s unique characteristics, near the top of which is the presence of UC Davis.

When people think of households, they may think of a family of two to four people, or even a larger, multigenerational family where grandparents and other relatives share the same home.

But a household can also mean eight to 10 students living together in a house in Davis, or a whole fraternity or sorority house.

“So when you think about three households gathering, that could actually be a pretty large number depending on what your household consists of,” said county spokeswoman Jenny Tan.

“It could be extremely large and it could be a super-spreader event.”

Social gatherings, noted Tan, “are still a cause for concern and one of the reasons we still have COVID-19 cases.”

But Yolo County doesn’t just have cases, it has a daily new case rate that continues to inch toward a point where the county might be moved back into the most restrictive purple tier in the state’s blueprint for reopening.

Moving back to purple would require multiple businesses to shut their doors again and limit the ability of schools which have not yet reopened for in-person instruction to do so in the future.

“We face the very real risk of moving back into the purple tier and social gatherings are going to help fuel this potential return,” Tan said Thursday.

“We want to be proactive in staying in the red tier and keeping businesses open, or allowing more businesses to open, and also getting our kids back to school.”

“We don’t want to move into the purple tier and then do something about it,” Tan added.

Social gatherings, noted Yolo County Supervisor Gary Sandy of Woodland, “have proven to be one of our most pressing challenges in containing the spread of the virus.

“With the holidays just around the corner,” he said, “it will be necessary for everyone to keep them small in size and among immediate family and close friends only. It is everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to stop the spread of the virus and in so doing protect our community’s health and safeguard the continuing operation of local businesses.”

In addition to limiting the number of attendees at social gatherings, requiring that they take place outdoors and for two hours or less, the county’s guidance also makes the following recommendations:

* Stay home if you have symptoms of illness or are high-risk
* Maintain six feet of distance or more from those not in your household
* Wear face coverings
* Practice healthy hygiene habits
* Minimize the sharing of food and drinks
* Limit the number of gatherings you attend

“For us to move forward,” said Tan, “we need to listen to these guidelines and restrictions to get us there.

“Either our efforts will move us forward or our lack of efforts will move us backward.”

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