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California tightens COVID-19 rules for large indoor events

A large arena concert in San Diego.
Grupo Firme performs at Pechanga Arena in San Diego on Aug. 14. California will now require attendees at indoor events of more than 1,000 people to verify their vaccine status or show they recently tested negative for the coronavirus.
(Daniel Knighton / Getty Images)

With the Delta variant still carving a distressing path through the state, California this week announced a tightening of its rules for large indoor events, which public health officials have long warned present particular risk of coronavirus transmission.

Under the updated guidance, which goes into effect Sept. 20, organizers of indoor events where at least 1,000 people are present will have to verify that all attendees have either been vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested negative within the prior 72 hours.

California already requires such screenings for indoor events with crowds of at least 5,000.

“The Delta variant has proven to be highly transmissible, making it easier to spread in large crowds where people are near each other for long periods of time,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and the state’s public health officer, said in a statement Wednesday. “By requiring individuals to be vaccinated, or test negative for COVID-19 at large events, we are decreasing the risk of infection, hospitalization and death.”

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California state officials and private businesses are increasingly prepared to request proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a precondition of both work and play.

Beyond widening the pool of events subject to verification requirements, state officials also announced that self-attestation, in which someone pledged that they were either vaccinated or had recently tested negative for coronavirus infection, is no longer an option.

Instead, attendees will have to show proof — the white paper card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a photo of it or some kind of digital record, such as the ones available through the state at myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov.

The idea of vaccine verification, particularly in indoor public areas, has begun to gain steam of late as the state battles the latest coronavirus wave.

Some cities — including San Francisco and Los Angeles — are moving forward with requirements that patrons show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before venturing into indoor spaces such as gyms, restaurants and bars.

Independent of government action, a number of individual venues, performance groups and entertainment companies have also opted to ask for documentation of vaccination status or a recent negative test as a precondition of attending shows.

Los Angeles Philharmonic is the latest to require proof of full vaccination, with no exception based on personal or religious beliefs.

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However, California has yet to alter its guidance for outdoor mega-events — those with more than 10,000 attendees. The state strongly recommends, but does not require, that organizers of large outdoor events screen attendees to make sure they’re either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recently tested negative.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County health officials announced that anyone attending large outdoor events — such as concerts, festivals and sports games — would need to wear face coverings, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.

The California Department of Public Health has not yet taken that step. When asked for comment about L.A.’s policy, state health officials said they are “continuously assessing and updating our guidance based on the latest science and data.”

“Masks limit the spread of the virus in the air from infected persons and protect others exposed to these particles,” the department’s statement continued. “Since the onset of the pandemic, counties have had the option to be more, but not less, restrictive.”


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