Updated March 18, 2020, 9:30am | Due to updated guidance from the CDC, the recommended guidance regarding mass gatherings has been changed to 10. CDC guidance is that no more than 10 people, meaning it is strongly suggested that groups of 10 and larger do not gather.
This guidance is based on what is currently known about the transmission and severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Fairfax County Health Department will update this guidance as needed and as additional information becomes available.
Fairfax County Health Department offers the following policy guidance, in alignment with the state ban on gatherings of more than 100. The ban is designed to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 in the community. Mass gatherings, where people are in close proximity, provides an environment where respiratory infections can easily spread. Restricting those gatherings will contribute to individual protection by reducing their risk of becoming infected and to community protection by reducing the risk of more widespread dissemination of this virus.
While gatherings with fewer than 100 people may continue, there is no threshold below which an event can be deemed completely risk free. For events of any size, organizers and participants each have responsibilities to reduce the chance of disease transmission.
For persons planning meetings with fewer than 100 people, the following factors should be considered in deciding whether to hold or to cancel the event.
- Status of COVID-19 spread in the community – Inform participants that an event may be canceled at any time if there is evidence of significant sustained community spread of infection. See the Health Department website, for the current status of COVID-19 in Fairfax County.
- Participation of persons from other areas – Events likely to have people traveling from other countries or other areas in the U.S. where there may be sustained community spread of the novel coronavirus should consider canceling.
- Availability of other modalities for the event – If an event can be held by videoconference or some other modality that does not require people to be present, organizers are strongly encouraged to use an alternate modality.
- Participation of high-risk individuals – Events attended by a significant number of people at higher risk for severe consequences of COVID-19, such as older adults or persons with chronic diseases or immunocompromising conditions, and pregnant women should be canceled at thresholds lower than the 100 people in the general guidance.
If an event is held, organizers should take the following steps to reduce the risk to participants.
- Engage a larger venue than is typically required to enable social distancing or limit the number of attendees per gathering – Using a larger meeting space can enable participants to “socially distance”, ideally 6 feet or more apart, to reduce the risk of respiratory disease transmission. Additionally, it may be possible to break your larger gathering into smaller groups or alter schedules for your attendees to reduce mixing (e.g. stagger meal, activities, arrival/departure times).
- Promote messages that discourage people who are sick from attending – Provide information before the event that people should not attend if they have fever or symptoms of respiratory illness (such as cough or runny nose). Create refund policies or remote participation capability such as live steam that permit participants the flexibility to say home when sick or are at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
- Provide materials to facilitate protective behaviors and increase cleaning – Making hand sanitizer and facial tissues available allows for behaviors that will reduce the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus. Clean frequently touched areas, such as elevator buttons, doorknobs, and escalator and stair rails before, during and after the event.
- Inform participants before and at the event how they can reduce their risk of infection – Share information on measures people can take to reduce their risk of illness including proper and frequent hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and social distancing (including no hand shaking or hugging).
- Plan for the possibility of someone who is or becomes ill at the event – Identify a place to isolate participants or staff should they become or be identified as sick at the event. If available, place a facemask on the ill person if they have respiratory symptoms. It is not necessary to distribute masks to healthy participants. Plan communications to others at the event if questions arise about sick participants.
- Maintain a registration list of participants and staff, including contact information (phone number and email) – this will assist the Health Department in contact tracing in the event that a COVID-19 case should later be identified as having attended the event.
Persons considering attending any event, regardless of the number of people attending should consider the risks and benefits in deciding on whether to attend. In particular, persons who are at high-risk of severe disease if they become infected – persons who are older than 60 years old, have chronic illness (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, lung disease), have a compromised immune system, or are pregnant – should know the status of COVID-19 in the community and not attend the event if local infection is widespread. If they do attend the event, they should be particularly rigorous in applying social distancing and taking other actions to reduce their risk of becoming infected.