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Outdoor gatherings during which participants stay in their vehicles are now permitted in Contra Costa County if organizers follow instructions in a new health order issued today.

The new order, which takes effect May 19, provides options for religious organizations that have been unable to hold services since COVID-19 began spreading in the county and for schools planning graduation ceremonies.

"The evidence suggests that the shelter-at-home order and other social-distancing measures that we have undertaken as a community are helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our area," Contra Costa Board of Supervisors Chair Candace Andersen said. "We must remain cautious, but the time has come for some controlled community gatherings."

Gatherings permitted by the new order would take place in large, outdoor areas such as parking lots for three hours or less. Except for the host and staff running the gathering, participants would attend in enclosed vehicles — no motorcycles — with only members of the same household in each vehicle.

Each gathering must have a designated host, permission from the property owner and a written plan to ensure physical distancing and other safety requirements are followed. For gatherings larger than 10 vehicles, the host is required to provide security for traffic and safety purposes.

The order includes guidance for allowing participants to use on-site restrooms and transfer of items such as diplomas. Sale of food or concessions is not permitted, and attendees must wear face coverings if they roll down the windows.

"We have made a lot of progress this spring, but COVID-19 is still circulating in our community," said Dr. Chris Farnitano, county health officer. "We are carefully tracking data related to infections and hospitalization to determine when and how to gradually ease social restrictions in the health orders."

To read the order, visit cchealth.org/coronavirus.

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