If residents of Contra Costa County, California wish to hold an outdoor gathering of up to 100 people, it had better be a protest.
On June 2, Reason reports, the Bay Area county’s Health Services department published an updated shelter-in-place order now allows for outdoor social gatherings as well as indoor and outdoor church services. Outdoor social events, however, are limited to 12 people from the same “social bubble,” while church services are limited to 12 people indoors or 100 people outdoors. Unlike protests, however, churches are required to keep detailed attendance records. The county still prohibits funeral services of more than 10 people.
“Social bubbles” are defined as a stable group of 12 people that are part of either a Household Support Unit, a Childcare Unit, or a Children’s Extracurricular Activity Unit. All three types of units have separate definitions laid out in the 17-page health order’s appendix.
Outdoor dining is now also permitted in the order, although that too comes with its own barrage of social distancing guidelines.
“I know there’s a lot of frustration out there, but it’s important to keep in mind that interventions like social distancing have saved lives,” Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer, said in a press release.
Late last month, California allowed counties to permit in-person protests, funerals, and indoor or outdoor religious services of up to 100 people, but it’s up to county health departments to decide how to implement these guidelines.
Reason’s Christian Britschgi explains:
I think county officials are also overestimating their ability to set the parameters of people’s social interaction. It’s doubtful many in Contra Costa are going to read through a 17-page public health order and its six separate appendices to figure what exactly is allowed at their barbeque.
At least the arbitrariness of the county’s reopening schedule doesn’t appear to be politicized in the way a lot of public health discourse has recently. Both New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy have said explicitly that violating mass gathering bans is OK if the gatherings are to protest police violence and racism. That’s a position apparently held by a number of public health officials too.
Yet the more distinctions and caveats public health officials and politicians add to their stay-at-home orders, the less credibility they have, and the less they’ll likely be listened to by a public that is ready to get back to some sort of pre-pandemic normality.
The hilariously arbitrary nature of reopening guidelines only grows more astonishing. After all, how can there possibly be a greater risk of coronavirus exposure in a 13-person “social bubble” than in a crowd of 100 people?
It’s all a facade, nothing more.