New state guidance targeting private gatherings

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After seven months of urging Californians to avoid gathering with any individuals from other households, the state has offered new guidance that seems to acknowledge the inevitable while providing some measure of harm reduction.

The guidance released last week now prohibits private gatherings with individuals from more than three households. Gatherings should be held outdoors and last no longer than two hours.
In discussing the new guidance on Monday, Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said that doesn’t mean it is ideal or even appropriate “to gather with three families.

Rather, he said, with “more than three households, you really are increasing your risk.

“We tried to put together a set of guidance that allows people to have what we in public health call a harm-reduction framework, really reducing risk and minimizing the chance of the spread of the disease.”

The guidance was released as cooler weather — when more people will gather indoors — approaches, as does a series of holidays from Halloween through the end of the year when people typically gather with family and friends.

The state defines gatherings as “events that bring together people from multiple households in one space, indoors or outdoors. That space could be as large as an arena or as small as a private home.”

Back in May, exceptions were made for faith-based services, cultural ceremonies and protests, all of which are now allowed in counties in the red, orange and yellow tiers of the state’s blueprint for reopening.

Restrictions apply to those events, including the number of people allowed, and rules regarding social distancing and face coverings remain in place.

Now, as of Oct. 9, outdoor private gatherings are allowed as long as no more than three households are participating and the duration is two hours or less.

Additionally, the following safety protocols should be followed:

  • Wear a mask, practice physical distancing and wash hands frequently
  • Do not attend if you have COVID-19 symptoms
  • Do not attend if you are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19 (seniors, those with certain medical conditions)

But the new guidance, said Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday, “doesn’t mean go.”

“(T)hat does not mean people should just now rush back to their original form… we want to caution against that,” said Newsom. “But we are entering into the holidays and we are entering into a part of the year where things cool down and people are more likely to congregate indoors and in settings that put their physical proximity and likelihood of transmitting disease at higher risk.”

Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza noted that the county has passed an enforcement ordinance that can be used in situations for large community group gatherings.

Provenza said if there are “fines are possible to anyone in the community who is committing a blatant violation and we’re hoping to improve compliance.

“But we need to improve more as we go forward,” he added, “particularly as there’s more reopenings through the various stages.

“There is more possibility that people will have the large gatherings that have been a source of outbreaks. So we’ll really need to keep an eye on that and hopefully the compliance occurs. But we do have those remedies if it doesn’t.”

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