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Coronavirus in California: New Rules For Gatherings

ImageA family last month at Knott's Berry Farm, which opened a Halloween-themed attraction with social distancing in Buena Park.
Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

Still, as Halloween approaches — with a holiday season unlike anything we’ve experienced hot on its heels — California officials are imploring us to stay the course.

This time, state officials have eased guidelines that outlawed gatherings of any size, which had sort of outlived their usefulness, practically speaking.

Here’s what to know about the state’s new rules for getting together:

What kind of events do these rules apply to?

These new rules apply only to private gatherings, which the state defines as “as meetings or other events that bring together people from different households at the same time in a single space, or place.” So, whatever rules are in place for businesses where people might mix are still in place. And while it’s not clear how and whether these guidelines will be enforced in various counties, they are mandatory rules — not just suggestions.

Your county might also have more stringent restrictions than the state’s.

How many people are allowed to hang out?

Unlike in the very early days of the pandemic, there is no hard cap on the total number of people who can be in the same place. Rather, the new guidelines bar any gathering of more than three households. That includes the host household.

The guidelines also codify the idea of a quarantine pod: It’s easier to trace the spread of Covid-19 if you’re always around the same people. If one person gets infected, it’ll be easier to let everyone they’ve spent time with know about it, so they can take precautions.

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To that end, the rules say hosts should collect names and contact info for anyone who comes over. Also, if you’re in a high-risk group, the state is urging you to stay home.

[Have a school pod? Here’s how to maintain peace.]

Does this mean it’s OK to have parties indoors?

Nope. All parties, meetings or other private gatherings have to be outdoors. (You can have shade, but at least three sides — or 75 percent, if you have a round canopy or something — of a space must be open.)

Not only do the parties have to be outside, but you also have to have enough space for everyone to maintain their six feet of physical distance at all times.

Events at parks or beaches are subject to the same limits, and the guidelines prohibit working around the three-household cap by linking up and mixing with other “parties.” (That, the state says, is still one party.)

People can use the bathroom inside, of course, but the restrooms should be “frequently sanitized.”

Do I have to wear a mask?

Yes. The rules are more or less the same as in every other situation: You can take off your mask to eat or drink, but you’re supposed to stay away from people outside your household while you do it.

So we can have food and drinks?

You can have food and drinks, but nix the buffet line and punch bowl. The guidelines urge you to use single-serve containers as much as possible. And if someone has to be in charge of serving, make sure they’re wearing a mask and washing their hands a lot.

Can we play some tunes? Sing? Lead one another in prayer?

Singing and chanting are still strongly discouraged, because if you’re infected, your spit droplets will spread farther through the air than they would just by talking.

If you’re going to sing, you should wear a mask. And if you’re going to play music, that’s fine — you just have to maintain your distance from everyone you’re playing with.

Wind instruments are also strongly discouraged, because from a Covid-19 transmission perspective, playing them is a lot like singing, except your droplets are being sprayed through a tube.

What about trick-or-treating? Or celebrating Día de los Muertos?

Sorry, kids (or parents of kids who really love Halloween): Traditional trick-or-treating is risky for pretty obvious reasons.

So is having people from different households gathering close together in front of altars.

The good news is the state is encouraging pretty intuitive workarounds, like putting on a costume and going on a safely distanced walk through your neighborhood, or displaying altars outside so you can see them from farther away.

[Read about the state’s second major attempt to reopen.]

This is all on top of overarching guidelines requiring Californians to isolate themselves if they’re experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it by email.)

Credit…Bryan Denton for The New York Times
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  • President Trump spent less than three hours in Orange County on Sunday, where he appeared at a high-dollar fund-raiser at the home of the 28-year-old founder of Oculus VR on Lido Isle in Newport Beach. [The Los Angeles Times]

A crowd of supporters and critics rallied nearby. The crowd included members of Southern California’s Armenian communities, who hoped to draw attention to the brutal conflict over disputed territory in Azerbaijan, which is home to ethnic Armenians. [The Orange County Register]

  • Officials issued a fire weather watch for mountain areas in the North Bay area to take effect Monday night. [The Press Democrat]

  • As local news outlets die, a nationwide operation of 1,300 local sites has risen. Their coverage is ordered up by Republican groups and corporate P.R. firms. [The New York Times]

  • Immigrant students or students who are the children of immigrants are increasingly the face of higher education in America. [The New York Times]

  • Maki, the lemur who was kidnapped from the San Francisco Zoo, was spotted by a 5-year-old in the parking lot of his preschool. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.


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