Did the coronavirus prompt new California holiday guidelines restricting gatherings?

gavin newsom coronavirus california holiday guidelines
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

A California Dept. of Public Health update on public gatherings released Oct. 9, coupled with a similar Oct. 26 advisory from County of Los Angeles Public Health, led some to infer that Gov. Gavin Newsom instituted new California holiday guidelines imposing restrictions on how many people could gather.

While Newsom asserted that California holiday guidelines had not officially been imposed, he did hint that a more specific directive could come soon—especially with coronavirus case numbers rising across the nation throughout October.

“I read somewhere some folks asserting we put out guidelines for the holidays,” Newsom said in a Deadline story that published Oct. 29. “They simply were misled or, intentionally, were misleading people. We have not put out Thanksgiving guidelines.”

The California Dept. of Public Health update, while not specifically mentioning holidays, did label its recommendations as “mandatory requirements.” They also appeared to address one potential holiday celebration scenario: Multiple families getting together for an indoor celebration.

CDPH’s update limited gatherings to three families and stipulated that “all gatherings must be held outside” (save for bathroom trips). It went on to clarify that gatherings “may occur in outdoor spaces that are covered by umbrellas, canopies, awnings, roofs, and other shade structures provided that at least three sides of the space (or 75%) are open to the outdoors.”

CDPH also noted that gatherings should be limited to two hours or less. Should singing take place, it continued, all participants should wear masks and seek to keep a distance of six feet or more from each other.

A number of media outlets, including Newsweek, characterized the guidelines as “Newsom’s strict restrictions on social gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving next month.”

Some public figures similarly interpreted them as restrictive California holiday guidelines and shared their displeasure on social media. In one egregious example, actor Rob Schneider addressed the issue on his Twitter account, calling the governor “Emperor Gavin Newsom,” and asking, “During our allotted 3 family limit this Thanksgiving, if my Aunt comes over, can I throw her a slice of turkey from the window?”

The L.A. Public Health advisory, however, did mention the holidays but only made specific recommendations for Halloween.

County Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted, “This pandemic has forced so many to sacrifice so much this year, and we recognize the frustration and disappointment with the holiday restrictions. For now though, it’s simply not safe to celebrate holidays the way we usually do. Being close to others who are not in our household carries with it a lot of risk for transmitting COVID-19 this year.”

The advisory deemed two varieties of trick or treating as “not recommended.” That includes door-to-door knocking, because of the challenge in maintaining proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, and “trunk or treating,” where children go to a group of assembled cars, because of the difficulty in avoiding crowding and sharing food.

Permitted and recommended activities included online parties, vehicle-based events like car parades, and Halloween-themed meals at outdoor restaurants, provided they comply with the county’s outdoor dining recommendations.

Sources: California Dept. of Public Health, County of Los Angeles Public Health, Deadline, Newsweek

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