As concerns of the coronavirus continued to sweep across the nation, California public health leaders late Wednesday issued new recommendations that gatherings over 250 people should be postponed or cancelled until at least the end of the month.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who was among a group of civic leaders briefed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, said he supports the new recommendations, with more details on local impacts coming Thursday.

Under the new guidelines, non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people, while smaller events can proceed only if the organizers can implement social distancing of 6 feet per person. Gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people, while also following social distancing guidelines.

The decision will have significant economic impact on the city: Large venues such as the Long Beach Convention Center have booked major events in coming weeks, as well as conferences attended by thousands of people; the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Queen Mary each draw an estimated 1.5 million annual visitors.

The announcement has an uncertain impact on the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which draws some 185,000 people over three days to Downtown Long Beach in mid-April.

No official word of a cancellation has come from race officials, who before Wednesday’s announcement had said the event would go on. The most recent economic impact report from 2017 showed the Grand Prix generates $63.4 million in economic output, with $32.4 million concentrated in Long Beach.

Earlier Wednesday, Newsom said advisers are also reviewing the possibility of restricting cruise travel off the California coast. A November report from the Cruise Lines International Association said the industry contributes roughly $2.5 billion to the state’s economy; Long Beach and Los Angeles are two of California’s four central cruise line hubs.

Leaders in other U.S. cities, including the hot spots of Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, have also banned large gatherings of people.

“Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects—saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now,” Newsom said in a statement. “The people in our lives who are most at risk—seniors and those with underlying health conditions—are depending on all of us to make the right choice.”

The policy defines a “gathering” as anything that brings together people in a single space including auditoriums, stadiums, large conference rooms, meeting halls and cafeterias.

The announcement came shortly after the NBA suspended its season, the NCAA said no fans will attend the popular March Madness tournament and St. Patrick’s Day events were scrapped across the country.

Locally, Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College announced that classes would be moving online for at least a month. Chapman, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, UCLA and USC are also moving toward holding all online classes.

The World Health Organization also on Wednesday declared coronavirus a pandemic, stocks slid into bear market territory and President Donald Trump said all travel between the U.S. and Europe would be suspended for 30 days beginning Friday.

In Long Beach, four people have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, or COVID-19. The city’s health department and other agencies are working to identify others who may have been exposed.

Officials are waiting for results on three more tests, and four other people have already tested negative, according to the city, which has been limited in its ability to screen suspected cases because of a lack of available tests.

All four people with the illness in Long Beach had contact with people infected outside the city—three of them following international travel, and one who traveled the Bay Area.

As of Wednesday evening, 38 people had died in the U.S., while more than 1,300 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Three people have died and 157 Californians have tested positive so far for the coronavirus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Melissa Evans is the executive editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-437-5814.