In another drastic step to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom recommended a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more through the month’s end.
The recommendation applies to all non-essential work and social events that draw people into a shared space at the same time—both indoors and out. (For some reason, Disneyland and other large theme parks were exempt from the directive. But the Happiest Place on Earth decided to comply anyway out of an abundance of caution).
In a news release shared with reporters late afternoon Wednesday, Newsom said the guidance stemmed from the expertise of public health officials, who have been urging people to practice “social distancing” of at least six feet apart.
People with known risk factors—advanced age, recent travel, chronic health conditions and so on—are advised to stay as isolated as possible and avoid being around any more than 10 others with similar vulnerabilities.
The suggested 250-head crowd cap dramatically expands the types and number of events forced to cancel or reschedule, including charity banquets, live performances and 5K runs. It comes after the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive for the virus and just hours before the NHL followed suit.
San Jose Sharks spokeswoman Joanna Schimmel said the team supports the decision. “With NHL games now being placed on hold as opposed to played without fans, ticket holders are asked to hang on to their tickets until additional information from the NHL becomes available,” she told reporters. “As new developments arise, we will communicate with our fans and partners. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”
Guidance for reducing allowable crowd sizes came from a White House coronavirus task force earlier this week, prompting Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese to suggest lowering the local limit even further. In a letter to County Executive Jeff Smith, Cortese formally requested maxing out gatherings at 200 people for public and private events.
“Over the last two days I’ve been approached by several community and cultural groups with upcoming events scheduled,” Cortese wrote. “They are confused and concerned as to why the limit is set at 1,000 when their own events are commonly attended by 400 to 600 persons. In the traditional fundraising environment in our region, banquets of this size are the norm. They involve placing people at tables in close quarters and on sweaty dance floors. Many of these groups cannot void contracts or recoup deposits without a government order. This adds to the pressure to go forward with some of these planned events. The sooner we can make this adjustment the better we can reduce risk and resolve confusion about the need to cancel such events.”
This marks a critical time for the U.S. response to the now-formally-declared pandemic. Authorities say the race is on to “flatten the curve,” a reference to a chart used to visualize the speed at which new cases are reported—and social distancing is key to that end.
“What will this achieve?” the California Department of Public Health asks in a memo explaining the new recommendations. “The timely implementation of aggressive strategies that create social distance and those that reduce close contact of people not regularly together, including limiting gatherings, has proven effective in prior pandemics at delaying rates of transmission and reducing illness and death.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done for people without the luxury of calling in sick or working from home. But Newsom called the precautions literally life-saving in the face of a virus that’s apparently far deadlier than the seasonal flu.
“Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease,” he said in announcing the crowd-size order. “Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects—saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now.”
Meanwhile, local officials are trying to contain COVID-19—the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus—despite mixed messages and limited data from the feds.
This morning, Congress members Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) will join Santa Clara County Board President Cindy Chavez and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at a press conference to demand more information about coronavirus exposure at the Mineta San Jose International Airport. Days ago, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) disclosed that three of its agents tested positive for COVID-19 and potentially exposed scores or hundreds of people to the virus.
The airport has remained open for business and followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for decontaminating the facilities, the uncertainty has hindered the city’s response. In a statement to reporters, Khanna urged the TSA to “immediately provide the public with information about the three employees” who tested positive, “beginning with the operational posts held by the employees.”
“If these employees were not in direct contact with travelers, we seek to reassure consumers,” he continued. “However, if the employees were posted at security checkpoints and had direct contact with travelers, we believe more information about posting locations and shift times should be made available to the public.”