CDC urges canceling events with 50 or more people to stem virus

Postpone weddings, parades, concerts, sporting events, and more, agency says

CDC Director Robert Redfield testifies on the Hill on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
CDC Director Robert Redfield testifies on the Hill on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 15, 2020 at 8:40pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday night recommended canceling or postponing events with 50 or more attendees for the next eight weeks, signaling a more aggressive federal position on the steps people should take to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency said gatherings that should be postponed include weddings, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events and other types of meetups organized by groups or individuals.

The recommendation comes after the governors of Ohio and Illinois closed bars and restaurants in their states, and ahead of the Senate's scheduled return on Monday afternoon.

The CDC said the guidance did not apply to the day-to-day operations of schools, colleges and universities or businesses, although many schools have already decided to close temporarily. The CDC did not immediately respond to a query on the reasoning behind the distinction.

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The CDC urged gatherings of any size be conducted while protecting people who are most vulnerable to the virus and by practicing social distancing and proper hand hygiene.

Administration officials indicated earlier in a Sunday evening press briefing that guidance would be coming, after the nation’s top infectious disease official had urged people to stay home during Sunday morning talk show appearances.

“You know, I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked if he would prefer a 14-day national shutdown.

“The kinds of things we're doing that may seem like an overreaction will keep us away from that worst-case scenario," Fauci also said on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

He added: "If you say, 'Should you, kind of, stay in your house, not go to a movie, not go to a restaurant?' For the most part, maybe most people shouldn't do that. But the ones who really shouldn't do that are the vulnerable ones."

During the press briefing, officials said coronavirus tests would become more available this week, with 1.9 million tests set to go out to 2,000 labs this week. The administration is prioritizing that health care workers and older Americans with respiratory issues or a fever be tested first.

Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, warned challenges could still exist to ramping up testing.

“I’m not going to say that the lab testing issue is over, because it’s not,” Giroir said.

Vice President Mike Pence said the administration is already in discussions with lawmakers in both parties about additional legislative packages to respond to the virus. Congress could clear a second coronavirus response bill this week after previously enacting a $8.3 billion law designed to curb the pandemic.