State criticized for restrictive Thanksgiving guidelines

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Courtesy of the Office of the Governor
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As the holidays fast approach, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health are coming under fire for their newly released guidelines on private gatherings, which come with strict restrictions aimed at decreasing the transmission of COVID-19.

“The state’s orders around Thanksgiving are quite thorough, to say the least,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said Monday. “I’m not sure how enforceable they will be, but I would just encourage Santa Clarita residents, as in all things, to be safe and understand that there are those who still aren’t comfortable gathering, and while we want to celebrate Thanksgiving, to keep that in mind.” 

After the state received widespread criticism on social media over the weekend for the restrictions, which were first issued Oct. 9, L.A. County Public Health officials sent out a statement Monday evening that reminded everyone about the importance of the precautions for gatherings. 

Anyone planning to host or participate in a private gathering, which is defined as “social situations that bring together people from different households at the same time in a single space or place,” must comply with the following requirements, per the state: 

  • No more than three households: Gatherings are permitted only if they include participants from no more than three households, including both hosts and guests.
  • Gather outdoors: All gatherings must be held outside, with attendees only going inside to use restrooms, as long as the restrooms are frequently sanitized.
  • Continue following public health guidelines: Participants should still maintain at least a 6-foot physical distance from others in different households, continue frequent hand washing or sanitizing and wear face coverings unless eating or drinking.
  • Keep it short: Gatherings should be two hours or less, as the risk of transmission increases the longer the duration.
  • Refrain from singing, chanting or shouting: These activities are strongly discouraged, as they increase the release of respiratory droplets and fine aerosols, including COVID-19 particles, into the air.

“That means not participating in public celebrations of any kind, which are high-risk,” according to L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, in Monday’s release. “There have been too many instances of people unknowingly spreading the virus at these types of gatherings, which, sadly, has led to new infections, serious illness and death. We can prevent cases, but it will take action from each of us personally and collectively.”

The county also reported that recent contact tracing interviews over the course of three weeks showed that 55% of the people who knew of a possible exposure had attended an event or gathering where 2 or more people were sick.

“In general, the more people from different households a person interacts with at a gathering, the closer the physical interaction is, and the longer the interaction lasts, the higher the risk that a person with a COVID-19 infection, symptomatic or asymptomatic, may spread it to others,” a CDPH news release stated. “The likelihood of transmission and spread increases with laughing, singing, loud talking and difficulty maintaining physical distance.”

For 22-year-old Tamara Wick, who lives alone in her Valencia apartment, the holidays are typically the only time she’s able to see her family, as she is often swamped with work.

“Before COVID, my whole family was planning on coming out to visit this summer, and now I haven’t seen them since this whole thing started,” Wick said. “So honestly, I’m not letting COVID stop me from seeing them. Sure, I’ll still wear a mask and keep my distance from my elderly relatives, but I still plan on going home for Thanksgiving, whether there will be more than three households there or not.” 

Locally, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials have released similar guidelines, also noting that gatherings of three households are permitted if they are held outdoors.

These guidelines come as Public Health officials reported a large backlog of COVID-19 cases last week due to technical issues with their reporting systems, resulting in a spike in daily cases not seen since mid-July.

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