Commentary

California hates the holidays

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Thinking about getting together with family for the holiday season? Think again. Just when you thought coronavirus restrictions couldn’t get any more pointless and arbitrary, California is setting a new standard with its rules on private gatherings.

The new rules, issued ahead of the holiday season by California’s Health and Human Services Agency, will make you scratch your head.

According to the state’s “Mandatory Requirements for All Gatherings,” no more than three households can gather in one place. Households are encouraged to keep the households they interact with “stable over time” and are “strongly discouraged” from participating in multiple gatherings with different households. The host of each gathering should collect the names and contact information of all attendees for contract tracing purposes, as if you don’t know who is coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.

All gatherings must be held outside, and attendees can go inside to use the bathroom “as long as the restrooms are frequently sanitized.” It is unknown how the state will know if a host invites some guests inside for a tour or to make a drink, or what the punishment might be if caught.

What about gatherings in shared spaces? “A gathering of no more than three households is permitted in a public park or other outdoor space, even if unrelated gatherings of other groups up to three households are also occurring in the same park or outdoor space,” the guidance reads.

For all you troublemakers who thought about stringing together multiple groups of no more than three households to make a mega-legal super-gathering, the state is one step ahead of you. “Multiple gatherings of three households cannot be jointly organized or coordinated to occur in the same public park or other outdoor space at the same time – this would constitute a gathering exceeding the permitted size.” Mixing between groups of gatherings in a shared space is prohibited.

Californians are also being asked to “keep it short” – gatherings should take less than two hours. Better plan on eating your Thanksgiving meal and leaving your aunt’s house by halftime of the first football game. That sounds like fun. Be sure to open your Christmas presents as fast as you can this year.

And just in case you had not yet been told many months into the pandemic, the private gathering rules recommend against attending gatherings if you feel sick, are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or if you are in a high-risk group. You should also maintain six feet of distance from other people, wear a facemask and practice good personal hygiene, including washing your hands frequently.

Will anybody in California actually limit their gathering to three households? Will all gatherings be held outdoors? Better yet, how exactly does the state expect to enforce these rules? Does the state expect neighbors to report one another for letting people inside their homes, or will there be mandatory inspections to ensure compliance?

If this plays out anything like how the residents of Los Angeles responded to a “No Fireworks” order that was in effect on Independence Day earlier this year, I suspect the holiday gatherings will go on as scheduled in California.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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