Californians wanting to escape the new reality of the coronavirus at the movies, casino or amusement park are running into the six-foot rule.
State health officials issued new guidance Saturday urging theaters to keep attendance under 250 people and ask strangers to sit six feet apart. The Department of Public Health said ushers should monitor theaters to ensure people are keeping appropriate social distance, while ensuring that family members can sit and stand in line together.
A similar guideline issued to gambling venues, urging them to limit 250 people per room and clean chips and slot machines more frequently, led the operator of the state's largest card rooms to shut starting Saturday.
“With approximately 8,000 employees, more than 20,000 patrons per day ... we must make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of our patrons and employees above all else,” said Eric W. Rose, a spokesman for Commerce Hotel & Casino, The Gardens Casino, The Bicycle Hotel & Casino and Hollywood Park Casino.
The Pechanga Resort Casino near Temecula said it will close Monday through the end of March to protect the health and safety of its guests and workers.
Theme parks and attractions were told to thin out crowds by staggering attendance.
The advisory was the latest effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus in California, affecting virtually every facet of life in the Golden State in ways big and small — and in some cases, surreal.
Popular restaurants were desperate for patrons, and typically crowded gyms had plenty of floor space. Some stores limited sales of toilet paper and other goods to combat hoarding.
California has about 250 confirmed cases and recorded its sixth death on Friday.
The phrase "social distancing” — simply, keeping away from other people to prevent the spread of the illness — was suddenly part of everyday conversation. Thousands of people were being urged to work from home, if possible, rather than coming into the office.
The call to avoid large gatherings prompted some to head to the theaters while they still can to catch a flick on the big screen.
“It's better to be at the movies now because no one is there,” Will Harris said Saturday as he purchased tickets outside an AMC movie theater in Emeryville, Calif. “It's probably safer in there than anywhere else.”
In Oakland, nearly 2,500 passengers have headed to quarantine sites from a cruise ship that docked there Monday after passengers contracted the virus. Princess Cruises said 14 international passengers remained on the ship while waiting to be repatriated to their home countries.
The virus usually causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can be hit with more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. More than 80,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. More than 65,000 have recovered.
More than 700 electronic highway signs began displaying on Saturday new public health warnings, urging drivers to avoid gatherings and wash their hands.
Roman Catholics in the Los Angeles and Oakland dioceses were dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass through March.
By Monday, one-third of California's 6 million public school students will be out of the classroom for one up to five weeks, depending on the district, as schools look to limit the health risks. Some expanded spring break while others were taking a wait-and-see approach.
Colleges and universities have said they will hold classes online. Stanford University urged students late Friday to leave campus as soon as possible after an undergraduate student tested positive.
There were concerns that closing school cafeterias would deprive students of meals, especially those from poorer families. West Contra Costa Unified School District announced that any child under 18 will be able to pick up food at two high schools. Meanwhile, San Francisco will shut libraries and indoor recreation centers to turn them into childcare centers for low-income families.
Courts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties moved to delay trials. Contra Costa and Ventura closed its courts for two and five weeks, respectively. San Mateo County officials have banned gatherings of over 50 people, NBC Bay Area reported.
Taxpayers got more time to file; state officials moved back the deadline to file California tax returns by two months to June 15.
The state Senate canceled all its committee hearings for next week in order to focus on handling the coronavirus outbreak, although the Senate as a whole was still scheduled to meet.
Jot Condie, who heads the California Restaurant Association, said some restaurants in tourist-dependent economies like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego had seen business plummet.
Associated Press Writers John Antczak and John Rogers in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Anaheim, California; Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco, Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this story.
This story has been corrected to say that California's nickname is the Golden State, not the Sunshine State.