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California officials advise against even small social gatherings as coronavirus spreads

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that sweeping guidance for Californians to avoid unnecessary gatherings will likely extend beyond March. The statewide guidance Newsom issued late Wednesday applies to sporting events, concerts and even smaller social gatherings in places where people can’t remain at least 6 feet apart. He said he expects it will affect the […]

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that sweeping guidance for Californians to avoid unnecessary gatherings will likely extend beyond March.

The statewide guidance Newsom issued late Wednesday applies to sporting events, concerts and even smaller social gatherings in places where people can’t remain at least 6 feet apart.

He said he expects it will affect the Major League Baseball season that begins at the end of the month. But so far, the guidance has not been extended to Disneyland or to casinos and card rooms.

It is not an official ban on big gatherings — like Washington state and even San Francisco have done — and Newsom said California’s legal authority is limited when it comes to enforcement.

“I have all the expectation that it will be advanced and will be adopted. Invariably, what happens if it isn’t? I’m not concerned about that. We have the tools in our toolkit if we need to move forward with stepped-up capacity,” he told reporters.

Newsom also said 21 more Californians tested positive for the virus Wednesday, bringing the total to 198 infections. Four people have died.

The California Department of Public Health advisory says gatherings of 250 people or more should be postponed or canceled, and gatherings of people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people.

“Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects — saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now,” Newsom said in a statement.

The goals are to delay the rates of transmission and death by reducing the number of people who contract COVID-19 before an effective treatment or vaccine is available, protect the elderly and chronically ill, and to preserve and protect the health care system’s capacity to respond, the guidance says.

It vastly expands California’s response to the outbreak as cities and others have instituted ever-increasing methods to curtail the spread of the virus. San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Clara County, which includes Silicon Valley, banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people.

The Los Angeles City Council announced it would hold just one public meeting a week instead of the usual three for the remainder of the month.

Corrections officials canceled daily visits at all state prisons until further notice. There are no suspected or confirmed cases of the virus at any lockups and the move was made as part of wider prevention efforts.

Meanwhile, officials in Oakland will continue with the painstaking process of removing nearly 500 passengers remaining on the Grand Princess cruise ship, all of them non-California residents and foreigners. About 2,000 passengers have been moved out of the ship and transported to military bases around the U.S. for a two-week quarantine. More than 20 passengers have been diagnosed with the virus, as well as 19 crew members.

Princess Cruises announced a two-month pause of global operations on Thursday that will gradually sideline all 18 of its cruise ships. Company president Jan Swartz said the decision was difficult but necessary, given that the company each year serves about 2 million people from 70 countries.

Health officials on Wednesday defended their approach of not quarantining the Carlton Senior Living facility in Elk Grove after a woman in her 90s there died of the coronavirus, even as a new dispute arose over whether Sacramento County officials were getting a sufficient number of kits to test for the virus.

Carlton Senior Living, which has 13 assisted living facilities in Northern California, said the resident in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, died at a hospital Tuesday.

Tyler Cooke of Sacramento, whose mother lives at the facility, said he first learned that a resident was infected through a media report and hasn’t gotten updates on what is being done to help his mother, who is 71 and has “a plethora of health issues.”

A Carlton spokesperson did not return calls and emails seeking additional information.

Sacramento County public health spokeswoman Brenda Bongiorno said isolation order precautions include limiting visitor access, freezing new admissions to the facility, closing common areas and enhanced cleaning measures. She would not release information on other residents in quarantine or whether any residents or employees were showing symptoms or tested positive.

No information about the woman who died has been released by Carlton or local health officials. Sutherland said she was 97, chair of the facility’s food committee and “always very friendly.”

On Tuesday, Sacramento County health director Peter Beilenson indicated frustration at the pace of testing for the disease. Under federal guidelines, the county is only allowed to process 20 tests per day.

California Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman Kate Folmar said state public health officials on Tuesday provided Sacramento County “with enough testing supplies to test 300 specimens, so that the county can address any testing backlog it may have including people at the assisted living facility. More supplies are coming.”

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the question is not so much having enough kits as how fast they can be processed. Her county can run about 30 tests per day using just one machine and have ordered two more.

Newsom and Ferrer said they expect more supplies to be delivered soon, but she said in the meantime the county lab could still perform “hundreds and hundreds” of tests.