Can vaccinated seniors hug their grandkids? What the ‘red tier’ means for private gatherings

Los Angeles County and Long Beach moving into the “red tier” of coronavirus restrictions doesn’t just mean new rules allowing indoor dining. Health officials also loosened the restrictions on private gatherings, which have long been limited to small outdoor groups with masks and distancing.

As of today, small groups of people are allowed to gather indoors—with safety precautions of course. Certain groups are even allowed to gather without masks or physical distancing. All gatherings are still limited to 15 people.

The new rules about gatherings in Long Beach:

Fully vaccinated people “may visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing in private settings only,” according to Long Beach’s new health order. Someone is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they got their final dose.

But it doesn’t have to be solely vaccinated people in a room: Unmasked visits without physical distancing are also allowed between people who are fully vaccinated and people from another single household, as long as the unvaccinated people “are at low risk for severe COVID-19.”

That means, for instance, a fully vaccinated health care worker could visit a healthy friend, or a pair of vaccinated grandparents could spend time at their grandkids’ home—all without having to wear masks or keep their distance. Until now, local health orders mandated those precautions and limited those social gatherings to outdoors.

Those indoor gatherings are limited to homes or other private spaces—you can’t have a maskless reunion in the park, for instance.

When it comes to groups of unvaccinated people, the rules remain mostly the same: Physical distancing and masking are still required. There can be no more than 15 people from three different households, and the host must collect people’s names and contact information in case someone later tests positive for the coronavirus and everyone else needs to be informed.

There is one major change though. Those small gatherings up to 15 people are now allowed indoors, although outdoors is still “strongly encouraged,” according to Long Beach’s guidelines.

“Unlike indoor spaces, wind and air in outdoor spaces can help reduce the risk of spread of the virus from one person to another because COVID-19 can remain airborne in indoor environments for hours, potentially increasing in concentration over time,” the city says in its health order.

Health officials warned that people should make every effort to increase air circulation if they choose to gather indoors.

What about the rest of Los Angeles County?

Los Angeles County’s new rules about gatherings essentially mirror Long Beach’s:

gatherings rules red tier

A slide from an LA County briefing Monday, March 15, 2021.

But, in a briefing Monday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged caution.

In the past, large indoor gatherings and holiday celebrations have stalled and seriously upended efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus. People should still be careful and abide by masking and distancing when possible, she said.

“Let’s not repeat our past mistakes,” she said. “And let’s pledge to keep everyone alive until it’s their turn to get vaccinated.”

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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