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By Miriam Raftery

October 9, 2020 (Sacramento) – One of the most difficult aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the inability to lawfully visit with friends and family members not in your household.  Now, nearly seven months after the state imposed a ban on all gatherings of any size due to COVID-19, the California Department of Public Health on Friday released new rules allowing limited outdoor private gatherings of up to three households in  private spaces or public areas such as parks, with social distancing, masks, and other health protections.

Counties may adopt the state standard, or keep stricter rules, though San Diego County has largely followed state rules in the past.  View the full rule changes.

To host a private gathering, the new state rules require that:

  • Gatherings are limited to three households or less, including the host and guests. The health department recommends keeping the households you interact with stable over time ( ie, forming “pods” to socialize within).
  • The host should collect names of guests and contact information, in case contact tracing becomes necessary if anyone gets COVID-19.
  • The gathering must be outdoors.  Guests can go indoors to use the restroom, provided it is frequently sanitized.
  • Outdoor gathering spaces can be covered with canopies, awnings, umbrellas, roofs or other shade structures as long as at least three sides of the space, or 75%, is open.
  • A gathering of no more than three households is allowed in a public park or other outdoor space, even if unrelated gatherings of other groups are there, however mixing between groups is not allowed.
  • Gatherings should be limited to two hours or less.
  • Keep six feet between people not in the same household. Be sure seating provides six feet in all directions from anyone not in the same household.
  • Guests should wear masks except when eating or drinking, or for urgent medical needs such as taking medication.
  • Avoid self-service or shared items. Provide food and drinks in single-serve containers if possible, or have food and beverages served by a person who wears a mask and washes or sanitizes hands frequently. Have hand sanitizer for guests, or a place to wash hands with soap and water.
  • Singing, shouting, chanting and physical exertion are discouraged due to increased droplet and aerosol transmission. If you do these activities, masks and six feet of distancing are required; use of a quiet voice is also advised for songs or chants. Instrumental music is allowed if the musician is from one of the three households and keeps six feet of distance, but playing wind/mouth instruments such as trumpet or clarinet is discouraged.
  • Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should not attend. These include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, night sweats, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, muscle or body aches, headaches, confusion, or loss of taste or smell.
  • Anyone who develops symptoms within 48 hours after a gathering should notify the host and other attendees should be notified promptly of possible exposure.
  • Those at high risk of severe illness or death from  COVID-19 are strongly urged not to attend gatherings, such as seniors and people with chronic medical conditions.


Why are these restrictions in place? 

Planning scenarios published by the CDC estimate that, on average, a person with COVID-19 goes on to infect between 2-4 people, when there are no preventive measures.[2]  For example, if each infected person spreads the virus  to two people, who in turn spread it to two others each; those four will spread the virus to eight others; those eight will spread the virus to 16; and so on.  As a result, after 10 transmission cycles, one person could be responsible for 1,024 other people contracting the virus.[3] Additionally, there is broad agreement that people who are not experiencing symptoms can still spread COVID-19[4].  The fact that COVID-19 can be spread by people who don't have symptoms or aren't showing symptoms yet is one of the aspects of the COVID-19 that makes it difficult to control.

“All gatherings pose a higher risk of transmission and spread of COVID-19 when people mix from different households and communities. The likelihood of transmission and spread increases with laughing, singing, loud talking and difficulty maintaining physical distance,” the California Department of Public Health states. “Limiting attendance at gatherings is a way to reduce the risk of spread as it lowers the number of different people who are interacting. “

Additionally, the website notes, “By limiting attendance there is an improved ability to perform effective contact tracing if there is a positive case discovered, which can help to slow the spread of COVID-19[5]. People who do choose to attend gatherings should discuss and agree upon the specific group rules before convening together.”

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