SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom closed beaches in Orange County on Thursday, overriding some local officials who had rejected his pleas to limit access as the coronavirurs continues to spread throughout the state.
A memo to the state’s police chiefs on Wednesday indicated Newsom was preparing to close all beaches in the state of nearly 40 million people whose identity is rooted in part in the surf and sand along its scenic coasts.
But Thursday, Newsom limited the order to Orange County, south of Los Angeles where the Newport Beach City Council earlier this week rejected calls to close its beach at the beginning of the busy tourism season. And nearby beaches in nearby Huntington Beach have remained open with few restrictions.
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Eric Nuñez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said a memo was sent to the group’s members Wednesday so they have time to plan ahead of Newsom’s anticipated closure announcement Thursday.
A message to the governor’s office seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned. The memo was first reported by the Los Angeles TV station Fox 11.
While most state parks and many local beaches, trails and parks have been closed for weeks, Newsom’s order is sure to ignite pushback from community leaders who argue they can safely provide some relief to residents.
“It’s time to move on,” Huntington Beach resident Jim Puro, 59, said Thursday. “We need to start opening up and I can’t think of a better way than to be out in the sun.”
The beaches are expansive, he argued. “There is more than enough space for people to socially distance themselves,” he said.
Pressure is building to to ease state and local restrictions that have throttled the economy, closing most businesses and adding nearly 4 million people to the unemployment rolls.
On Wednesday, six San Francisco Bay Area counties that imposed the first broad stay-at-home orders in the state loosened them slightly to allow for landscaping, construction and other outdoor businesses.
Compounding the Confusion
And in what could be a critical addition for many parents, it specifies that summer camps are allowed, but only if kids stay in small groups and their parents are considered to hold essential jobs under the state order, such as health care workers.
Compounding the confusion: Some elements of the revised orders won’t take effect because they conflict with the statewide stay-at-home order, which is still in place.
In Riverside County, authorities said its local order will end Thursday and be replaced by less-restrictive measures. Trails and parks will be open for hiking, biking and horseback riding as long as visitors wear masks.
Health officials, however, warn that more mingling also brings the potential for more infection and the government should tread gingerly when easing restrictions.
Newsom’s beach order follows a weekend in which some 80,000 people flocked to Newport Beach in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, with additional thousands gathering at open beaches in Ventura County, northwest of LA. Beaches in Los Angeles County remain closed.
Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis and Fire Chief Jeff Boyles said in a statement Thursday that they were out patrolling last weekend and most city residents and visitors were keeping their distance.
“What we observed from land and by air was the vast majority of beach goers practicing social distancing,” the statement said.
California Is Approaching 50,000 Confirmed Coronavirus Cases
An Orange County supervisor, Donald P. Wagner, said he believes Newsom has the power to close local beaches but “it is not wise to do so.”
Lifeguards said most people appeared to be heeding social distance safety rules such as limiting groups and not lingering on the sand. But the crowds irked Newsom, who has said California’s 40 million residents should try to stay home as much as possible.
“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off, this virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts,” he said Monday.
California is approaching 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, although the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested.
However, virus hospitalizations have been virtually flat for several weeks in California and the state has dodged the dreaded massive surge of patients experienced by New York and several other states.
Newsom reiterated Wednesday it would be weeks before he makes the first significant modification to the state order, urging people to remain at home to prevent unintended outbreaks among the state’s most high-risk populations, including nursing homes.
“It won’t be on the basis of pressure, it won’t be on the basis of what we want, but what we need to do,” Newsom said.