SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is easing its coronavirus restrictions to allow up to three households to socialize outdoors, an expansion of rules aimed at people tempted to have even larger gatherings around Halloween, Thanksgiving and end-of-year holidays, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
Three households can gather so long as they wear masks and follow other safety precautions designed to stem the spread of the virus, under the new guidelines from the California Department of Public Health. State health officials previously discouraged gatherings outside of a single household.
The goal is not to encourage larger gatherings, Newsom said, but to recognize the increasing pressure for get-togethers and provide ways for people to act appropriately. There's no limit on the number of people within any three households, though state officials say smaller is better.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said the guidelines are meant to recognize that many close friends and relatives have been apart a long time and want to be together.
All such gatherings should be outdoors, although it’s OK for guests to use indoor restrooms as long as they are frequently sanitized.
While much of the country and European nations are seeing a resurgence, coronavirus indicators in California are near their record lows. Hospitalizations are at their lowest level since early April and those in intensive care at their second-lowest level since officials began keeping track in late March. The rate of positive tests has been hovering at 2.6% for two weeks.
California has recorded about 850,00 positive tests and has seen more than 16,500 deaths. The number of weekly cases has flattened after a precipitous drop from peak levels during the summer. Average daily deaths have been falling and were at 60 for the most recent seven days.
Newsom said officials want to keep the numbers low.
“We are entering into the holidays, but also we’re entering into part of the year where things cool down and people are more likely to congregate back indoors in settings that put their physical proximity and likelihood of transmission and transmitting disease at higher risk,” he said.
Even the less restrictive guidelines advise that it's best to stick to the same three households over time.
“Participating in multiple gatherings with different households or groups is strongly discouraged,” the department said in the guidance released late Friday.
People can gather under awnings, roofs or shade structures so long as at least three sides are open to outdoor breezes. Gatherings should be two hours or less to reduce the risk of transmission.
Guests who aren't from the same household must socially distance and food should not be shared. Masks should be worn except when people are eating or drinking. Singing, chanting and shouting “are strongly discouraged” because those activities increase the release of respiratory droplets and fine aerosols. Hand sanitizer or a place to wash hands must be available.
People who are sick or medically vulnerable should not attend. Those who come down with coronavirus-like symptoms within 48 hours should notify the others who attended, and the host or organizer should keep track of who attended so they can be notified.
In late August the state implemented a new system for reopening at the county level. Forty-two of the state's 58 counties now have moved out of the most restrictive level and can offer such things as indoor dining and mall shopping.
The Walt Disney Co. is among businesses and individuals urging Newsom and state health officials to come up with rules allowing for the reopening of amusement parks. Disney officials recently announced they are laying off 28,000 workers because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom said his administration is sending teams to inspect theme parks with an eye to eventually allowing reopenings. But he said the guidelines may draw a distinction between massive theme parks that amount to “small cities” and draw visitors from around the world, and smaller parks that may draw from a particular region and are less likely to lead to widespread transmission.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Don Thompson, The Associated Press