‘Large-gathering’ bans enacted by state governors to contain COVID-19

West Coast, New York, Ohio first to ban groups of more than 250 people

Governors from Washington, Oregon, California, New York and Ohio are calling for bans on large gatherings in an effort to slow the coronavirus spread. Other states are pushing for social distancing as well. In Europe, many areas remain on lockdown.

The nuances of the gathering bans vary widely state to state and are difficult to enforce.

As some Twitter users ask, does this include the New York Subway? What about church services? Will amusement parks close?

“None of this was covered in seminary,” tweeted on Ohio-based Methodist pastor.


New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday there would be a large-gathering ban within a mile radius of New Rochelle, the center of the COVID-19 epidemic in New York, which had 109 cases at the time of the news release.

"As we see the number of cases continue to rise based upon close contacts with persons who are positive for COVID-19, there is a particular need to reduce the opportunity for further close contacts," said New York State Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker. "These opportunities include schools, churches, synagogues, and other event spaces where large numbers of people gather and remain together for extended periods of time."

The ban is set to last until at least March 25.

Meanwhile, recent reports from a New York Times reporter show the ban is being extended to New York City as well, including gatherings of 500 or more people.

»MORE: Weariness hits residents in New York's 'containment area'

Washington state has also issued bans in certain heavily impacted areas. On Wednesday night, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, according to news station KIRO 7.

Inslee said it is “very likely” the ban could be extended beyond March.

The rest of the West Coast has followed suit, with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown banning all public gatherings of more than 250 people statewide for four weeks, effective Wednesday, and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California highly encouraging a large-gathering ban of more than 250 people.

Under California policies, "non-essential" gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and conferences should be postponed or canceled until at least the end of March, while necessary small gatherings should ensure that people can stand at least 6 feet apart, news station KTVU reported.

Neither state's policies are enforced for public school classrooms. Theaters and casinos are also exempted from the ban in California, according to CBS Los Angeles.

However, reports Thursday afternoon say Disneyland is closing for two weeks in alignment with Newsom's intentions to prevent coronavirus exposure.

»RELATED: Coronavirus event cancellations in and around metro Atlanta

In Ohio, a ban is expected to be called within the next 24 to 36 hours, according to a source from The Atlantic.

Kentucky has not issued an official large-gathering ban, but Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday that church services across the state should be canceled. He confirmed two of the state's cases attended the same church together in Harrison County, according to Kentucky.com.

"I know it is a big step, but I can tell you the direct connection between at least two Harrison County residents is that they go to church together," Beshear said. "We would not be suggesting" that these services should be canceled "if we did not believe this coronavirus can be or is currently being spread in those areas. I know that's a big step, I know that some people won't agree with it, but I believe it's our job to offer those protections."

»MORE: Are fears about coronavirus affecting metro Atlanta church services?

A large-gathering ban has been issued in many other localities across the nation, from Austin to San Francisco.

Austin city officials  canceled the South by Southwest arts and technology festival after imposing a large-gathering ban in the city due to COVID-19.

Credit: Rich Fury/Rich Fury/Invision/AP

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Credit: Rich Fury/Rich Fury/Invision/AP

These seemingly drastic measures mirror similar policies that are being adopted all over the world. Scotland, Sweden, France and Italy all are examples of European countries that have tried to limit social contact in large groups.

Australia may be the next nation to issue a large-gathering ban if pressure from doctors continues.

"History indicates in the acceleration of an epidemic if large public gatherings are contained, it's more likely you'll be able to reduce the spread of infection and the consequent fatality rate. The unfortunate lessons of history are such while it's all very well to believe things are contained in the context of viral outbreaks, often things behave very differently." — Australian Medical Association President Julian Rait

So far, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said multiple times that there was minimal risk and Australians should continue attending gatherings including sporting matches, according to ABC Australia.

»Stay up to date on the coronavirus pandemic with AJC's complete COVID-19 coverage.