By Laura French
This article, originally published on March 11, 2020, has been updated with new information.
ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its interim guidance for managing mass gatherings amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as the disease's impact in the United States continues to evolve.
The new guidance, issued on Sunday, recommends canceling or postponing gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
"Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities," the CDC said in its update. "Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to the guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual."
The CDC noted that the guidance is meant to apply to events such as conferences, parades, concerts, sporting events and weddings, and not day-to-day activities such as work and school, but that the guidance does not supersede the advice of local public health officials.
Other than attendee count, the guidance also asks organizers to consider the density of attendees in a confined space, level of transmission in the local community and number of attendees who may be considered high risk due to age or pre-existing health conditions when deciding whether to cancel or postpone events.
For events that are not canceled, the guide stresses keeping close partnerships between event organizers and emergency coordinators, public safety officials, health departments and hospitals to prepare and plan.
The CDC recommends encouraging people who are sick not to attend events, providing supplies such as hand sanitizers, tissues, disposable masks as well as access to sinks and soap for handwashing at the event, and identifying a space where attendees who become sick can be isolated if they are unable to leave immediately.
The guide adds that organizers and partners should stay informed about the local COVID-19 developments, distribute reliable COVID-19 information to staff and participants and use effective disinfectants to clean frequently touched services and objects at venues.
The CDC also stresses the importance of protecting those who are at a high risk of COVID-19 complications, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions, by minimizing contact between older or vulnerable staff members and attendees, and offering refunds or alternative event viewing options to vulnerable participants who cannot attend.
The guidance concludes that the steps taken regarding large events should be reviewed by organizers and partners in the aftermath of the outbreak to identify where gaps may have occurred and learn from them to plan for future public health threats.