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California

To fight coronavirus, Silicon Valley health officer says all gatherings should be canceled

Transmission electron micrograph of new coronavirus particles, isolated from a patient.
Transmission electron micrograph of new coronavirus particles, isolated from a patient.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

Calling the coronavirus outbreak “one of the most historic public health challenges of our time,” the health officer for Silicon Valley has issued a new aggressive ban on public gatherings — restricting gatherings of 35 or more unless organizers warn attendees that it poses a heightened risk of infection and banning all public and private gatherings of 100 or more.

The order also recommended all gatherings be canceled.

With the coronavirus spreading fast and hitting Silicon Valley hard, the order by Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody was the most stringent ban on public gatherings across California. Santa Clara County is the worst hit county across the state, reporting one death and 79 cases. The number of cases is more than triple than what it was a week ago.

The county superintendent of school also ordered the closure of public schools in Santa Clara County beginning March 16 through April 3.

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“Based on these data and patterns of disease that we see around the world, we know that the outbreak of COVID-19 in our county will accelerate. And we anticipate many, many more cases in the days and weeks to come,” the health officer said.

“These measures are designed to slow the spread of disease and preserve critical health-care capacity and other essential services,” Cody said.

The order will likely have a dramatic effect on restaurants, theaters and bars.

A gathering is any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or space at the same time, like an auditorium, stadium, arena, conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, restaurant, theater, bar or any other confined indoor or outdoor space, Cody said.

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The order also instructs prospective attendees of gatherings between 35 and 100 people be warned that older adults and people with existing health conditions “are at particularly serious risk and should not attend,” and that the gatherings “pose a heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

The ban does not include normal operations at airports, or places where people may be in transit, offices, classrooms, retail environments such as pharmacies and grocery stores, or hospitals and clinics.

The new order will go into effect 12 a.m. Saturday.

The swift rise in cases has caused authorities to believe the outbreak will get dramatically worse.

Cody acknowledged what a tough decision this was.

“These decisions are hard to make. We are balancing the public health need to slow the spread of infection with the significant impact we know these actions will have on the lives of our residents. We believe these actions are necessary to protect the well-being of our community during one of the most historic public health challenges of our time,” Cody said.

There are five requirements that hosts of public and private gatherings between 35 and 100 people must comply with:

  • Keep attendees at least 6 feet from each other
  • Make soap and water available for attendees to wash their hands, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • People hosting gatherings must alert prospective attendees 24 hours before that the events post a heightened risk of coronavirus transmission, and older adults and those with health conditions are at serious risk and should not attend
  • For ticketed events, hosts must allow prospective attendees to cancel their attendance at no charge and refund them
  • Hosts must clean surfaces with disinfecting wipes and other standard cleaners.

The order said that while gatherings of fewer than 100 are not prohibited if hosts comply with the five requirements, “the Health Officer strongly urges hosts and sponsors to cancel all such gatherings.”

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San Francisco’s health officer has issued a public health order banning all non-essential events of 100 or more people. Restaurants that have a capacity of more than 100 people can continue operating if they reduce their occupancy in half. For instance, a restaurant with an occupancy of 150 can continue operating if it reduces its occupancy in half to 75.

“We hope that this order will encourage people to skip social gatherings for the time being, and promote telecommuting and social distancing. Together, we can fight the spread of coronavirus, reduce harm to our community, and protect the most vulnerable people,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of health.

Lin reported from San Francisco; Winton, from Los Angeles.


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