As conferences throughout California have been canceled and sports teams face the possibility of playing for empty arenas, the California Department of Public Health has issued guidelines for how event organizers should handle mass gatherings amid the growing number of coronavirus cases.
The guidelines were issued over the weekend, one day after the South by Southwest festival in Austin was canceled and a day before tens of thousands gathered for the Los Angeles Marathon.
Despite the spread of coronavirus exposure across the state, which has confirmed more than 100 cases, the protocols do not explicitly instruct organizers to cancel any events.
If a gathering takes place where coronavirus cases have been confirmed, the onus has been on individual participants to refrain from attending if they’re sick, have traveled to a country with an outbreak in the last 14 days or are vulnerable to illness.
Essentially, it’s up to the organizers to decide what steps to take during a situation that remains fluid, officials have said. The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, one of the top tennis tournaments in the world, was canceled Sunday amid growing concerns over the coronavirus. The fate of the nearby Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Riverside County remains unclear.
When there is no evidence of community spread, officials have advised event organizers to create contingency plans. They should coordinate with community partners, including local public health departments, hotels, airlines and event venues. The state public health department also advises organizers to create a refund policy or institute a remote participation ability.
Individuals should have access to soap, hand sanitizer and tissues, officials advised. Any person who may fall ill with symptoms seemingly related to coronavirus should be isolated.
In areas where community spread is confirmed, the state’s public health department is not suggesting outright cancellations. Instead, the most explicit suggestion is that organizers consider canceling nonessential events attended primarily by older individuals or those with a higher risk for illness.
“People with underlying medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease and immunosuppression are also likely at higher risk for severe illness,” officials said.
At least 114 cases of coronavirus have been reported in California, and there has been one death connected to the outbreak. Twenty-four of those cases include individuals who were evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship or were repatriated from flights from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus. A growing number of cases are tied to another Princess Cruises ship, the Grand Princess.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency last week as at least 20 counties have been affected.
Health officials have continued to stress that the public take precautions by hand-washing, and for individuals to stay home if sick. That instruction is especially critical to help protect vulnerable individuals. Younger and healthy people who contract the virus may have mild symptoms. But taking steps to self-isolate when sick helps protects others — including the elderly or those with underlying health issues — who are most at risk for developing serious symptoms.