California’s top public health official is asking thousands of people who attended a religious concert at the state Capitol Sunday to quarantine for potential exposure to COVID-19.
Acting State Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan called the event “very concerning,” in part because of the health risks stemming from about 3,000 maskless attendees singing while gathered in close proximity on the west side of the Capitol. Health experts say singing allows the novel coronavirus to spread faster.
“Anyone who attended the event should self-quarantine for a period of 14-days and should closely monitor for symptoms,” Pan said in a statement Wednesday. “If symptoms appear, they should get tested and contact their healthcare provider if symptoms become serious.”
The Sunday gathering raised eyebrows and questions about the enforcement of public health guidelines and how those guidelines intersect with the First Amendment right to assemble.
The worship rally was headlined by Sean Feucht, a Christian singer and songwriter based near Redding. Feucht has hosted several “Let Us Worship” events across the country in protest of local and state policies that limit religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. He drew criticism in June for holding an event at the site of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
State Sen. Shannon Grove (R–Bakersfield) was also at the event and spoke briefly on stage. Grove and most of her GOP colleagues in the senate were barred from entering the state Capitol during the waning days of the legislative session after Sen. Brian Jones (R–Santee), tested positive for COVID-19.
The event permit was approved by the California Highway Patrol, which provides security and permitting for the state Capitol grounds. But requirements regarding social distancing and a stateside mask mandate were loosely enforced.
The Sacramento event was permitted for up to 1,000 people. Feucht said there were nearly 12,000 — though CHP’s official estimate put the number of attendees between 2,500 and 3,000.
Video from the event shows the vast majority of attendees not wearing masks and hundreds of people near the front of the crowd packed together at the stage.
The CHP permitting website strongly recommends the use of face coverings. It also states that “failure to maintain adequate physical distancing constitutes a violation of the permit and attendees are required to vacate state property.”
However, the permit itself, which was issued to an employee of a Bakersfield-based church, does not mention masks, social distancing, or any pandemic-related health guidelines. It mentions other rules regarding equipment allowed on the premises, alcohol, and trash.
California has a statewide mask mandate and other rules for social distancing in public. So why were those guidelines not enforced?
In a statement, CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee said it was up to event organizers to “advise all participants of the requirement to socially distance.”
A Facebook page for the event asked attendees to “please adhere to social distancing guidelines,” but public health rules were not mentioned before the event itself began, according to video of the rally.
Coffee acknowledged the lack of social distancing by eventgoers but added, “Prior to the event start, the Capitol Permit Officer indicated those who were showing up at the Capitol were socially distancing. Additionally, the permit officer was walking around the crowd verbally reminding people.”
But Coffee said an on-scene manager decided against dispersing the event for several reasons, including the large number of people “and the fact that it was a relatively short event” that was scheduled and approved for three hours.
“Other factors involved in this decision include factoring in the resources needed to disperse a crowd of this size, safety of the participants, the time it would take, as well as other protest events in the Sacramento area,” Coffee said.
Sacramento County is in California’s purple tier, meaning the virus is considered “widespread” and the county has tight restrictions over schools, businesses and other activities. In purple-tier counties, places of worship are only allowed to operate outdoors with strict physical distancing between congregation members not of the same household.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he requested CHP work with the California Department of Public Health to put new permitting protocols in place.
“There is real concern about the spread of this virus — not just for those that were at the event, [but] for people who innocently were not at the event,” Newsom said. “Because people that may be exposed from the event are coming back into a community, coming back into a household, and potentially putting other people at risk. That, respectfully, is not acceptable.”
The governor said new guidelines would apply to religious events, protests, and any other public event at the state Capitol and would have to balance constitutional rights with public health concerns.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.