In late October 2020, readers asked Snopes to verify online claims that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had imposed a stringent list of restrictions for holiday gatherings, specifically around Thanksgiving and Christmas, to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many parts of the United States, California is experiencing an upward trend in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. But California has yet to issue guidance specific to holding Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings amid the ongoing health crisis, a public health department spokesperson told us by email.
So where did this piece of viral COVID-19 misinformation come from? It appears it originated with various news websites that conflated an Oct. 9, 2020, California Department of Public Health list of general requirements with requirements for the upcoming holidays, and then the list took meme form on Facebook.
For example, one headline from Newsweek, published Oct. 22, 2020, read, “California Gov. Newsom’s Thanksgiving Rules Explained as Severe Restrictions Put in Place.” A second headline from Newsweek, published Oct. 26, 2020, read, “California Gov. Newsom’s Thanksgiving Rules Blasted By Celebrities.”
These stories were followed by a report headlined, “California releases crazy mandatory guidance for private gatherings this Holiday season,” posted by KUSI, a San Diego television station. The KUSI story contained the following graphic that falsely claimed the guidance targeted holiday gatherings. The graphic was then de-coupled from the KUSI story and went viral on its own on Facebook:
As we noted above, the guidance issued on Oct. 9, 2020, by the state health department (not Newsom’s office) applies to private gatherings and makes no mention of the holidays.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health told us via email that as of this writing, the department hasn’t issued guidance for Thanksgiving or Christmas and that, “Guidance specific to Thanksgiving is forthcoming.”
However, the agency pointed out that certain activities put people at greater risk of contracting the virus:
“In general, the more people from different households a person interacts with at a gathering, the closer the physical interaction is, and the longer the interaction lasts, the higher the risk that a person with a COVID-19 infection, symptomatic or asymptomatic, may spread it to others,” meaning the safest way to gather is to interact with people in the same household or do so virtually.
The coronavirus has killed more than 228,000 Americans as of this writing and sickened nearly 9 million. However, mitigation measures meant to slow the spread of the virus and protect public health, such as mask-wearing and quarantines, have been politicized.
On Nov. 13, 2020, California released its actual guidance for the upcoming fall and winter holidays. The guidance included limitations placed on gathering depending on each county’s restrictions, which are based on local disease rates. The state further recommends that people in high-risk groups, namely the elderly or those with preexisting conditions, do not attend gatherings, with social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing also recommended. The guidance can be read here.