APRIL 30 — The news hit Orange County like a cold wave: California’s governor was shutting down the beaches.
A “hard close” order took effect today (May 1) for seashores from wealthy Newport Beach to artsy Laguna Beach and down Doheny way.
It followed a weekend where tens of thousands of the landlocked and homebound hit the sands south of Los Angeles County, where beaches have been closed for weeks. Newsom scolded people for defying the spirit of his statewide stay-at-home order, designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has killed some 2,000 people in the state.
“People that are congregating there, that weren’t practicing physical distancing … may not even know that they contracted the disease and now they put other people at risk,” Newsom said.
Newsom said he hoped it would be “a very short-term adjustment,” although the directive had no termination date.
Maureen Osborne is a resident of Huntington Beach, which proudly declares itself “Surf City, USA.” She was torn by the closure of the sweeping, scenic beach just a 10-minute walk from her home.
She hasn’t gone there much since the coronavirus outbreak because the neighborhood has become crowded with visitors who park their cars to walk down to the shore. But wishes she could.
“It is what it is,” said the 62-year-old, who now carries a mask with her as a precaution when she goes out. “If people are sensible and do what they’re supposed to with the social distancing — but not everybody is.”
Newsom, a Democrat, has engendered strong bipartisan support for most of his actions during the virus outbreak. But more recently, some of the more rural and GOP-leaning areas of the state have begun chafing against what they see as an overly cautious move toward reopening California, which has seen its 40 million people cloistered and its economy hemorrhage jobs because of mandated business closures.
Newsom’s beach order was condemned as punitive, political overreach by some Republican lawmakers, especially those in Orange County, where the GOP hopes to regain ground lost to Democrats in what was once a Republican stronghold.
“At a time when California is granting early release to high-risk sex offenders and other dangerous inmates due to COVID-19 concerns, the implicit threat to punish beachgoers and surfers who violate the order is absurd,” state Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said in a statement.
Huntington Beach and Dana Point city councils voted Thursday to pursue legal challenges against the order. Newport Beach planned to discuss its challenge options this weekend.
Elected officials in beach communities such as San Clemente argued that they are well aware of the need to contain the virus and are succeeding in reducing the threat countywide through safe practices.
It’s the same argument made in Modoc County in California’s northeast corner. That county, which has about 9,000 residents, planned to allow hair salons, churches, restaurants and its only movie theater to reopen Friday, becoming the first county in the state to ease out of stay-at-home orders and flout the governor’s mandate.
Ned Coe, a cattle rancher and county supervisor, said Thursday that the county bordering Oregon has no confirmed COVID-19 cases and after consulting with health officials, the Board of Supervisors voted to reopen.
“Just as our physical health is vital for our citizens, so is the mental health and the economic health of our citizens,” Coe said.
Newsom did not say whether he would move to stop the reopening.
Orange County, by comparison, is home to more than 3 million people. The county’s Health Care Agency on Thursday reported an additional 145 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to around 2,400 with 45 deaths.
On Wednesday, administration officials spread the word to police and other local officials that the governor planned to order all California beaches closed. That evening the California Police Chiefs Association sent a bulletin to its members alerting them so they would have time to plan for it.
However, a senior administration official who was not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations told The Associated Press that Newsom’s final decision wasn’t made until Thursday morning.
Newsom then announced a shutdown order covering only Orange County. That angered local officials, who said the vast majority of beachgoers act responsibly and are being punished unfairly.
County Sheriff Don Barnes said he would focus on cautioning and educating people that they must practice social distancing rather than citing them for violating the state order.
“I have no desire to enforce any aspect of that through arrest,” he said.
California Coastal Commission Chair Steve Padilla said he supports the governor’s action.
“I had COVID-19, was hospitalized for three weeks and in ICU on a ventilator for eleven days fighting for my life,” Padilla said. “So take it from me — we need to listen to the governor and stay home until it’s safe.”
APRIL 29 — Gov. Gavin Newsom will order all beaches and state parks closed Friday after tens of thousands of people flocked to the seashore last weekend during a heat wave despite his stay-at-home order, according to a memo sent Wednesday evening to police chiefs around the state.
Eric Nunez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said it was sent to give chiefs time to plan ahead of Newsom’s expected announcement Thursday (April 30).
A message to the governor’s office seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.
Newsom this week targeted beachgoers in Orange and Ventura counties, calling them an example of “what not to do” if the state wants to continue its progress fighting the coronavirus. While many beaches and trails throughout the state have been closed for weeks, others have remained open with warnings for visitors to practice social distancing and more have reopened.
In Newport Beach, some 80,000 visitors hit the beach over the weekend, although lifeguards said most people exercised social distancing. With criticism swirling, the Newport Beach City Council met Tuesday and rejected a proposal to close the beaches for the next three weekends.
Nearby Laguna Beach approved a limited reopening. Beaches across San Diego County reopened Monday, with a few exceptions.
The governor’s order is sure to draw fire as pressure is building to ease restrictions and slowly reopen the state. 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.
APRIL 27 — Gov. Gavin Newsom said today (April 27) that the state is exploring more aggressive enforcement of its coronavirus shelter-in-place order after residents in coastal areas flouted the order over the weekend by going to the beach.
Newsom led off his daily briefing on the coronavirus by chastising residents in places like Orange and Ventura counties who flocked to local beaches, particularly on Saturday, during a wave of warm weather across the state.
Newsom argued that the state is weeks, rather than months, away from beginning to loosen shelter-in-place orders as long as people abide by physical distancing and other public health practices to avoid spreading the virus. That won’t be the case if people continue leaving their homes just because the weather is nice.
“As we change our behavior, we can impact the science, the health and the data,” Newsom said. “This virus doesn’t take the weekends off, this virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful, sunny day around our coasts.”
Newsom’s credibility was damaged, however, when his prediction that the state’s hospitals were going to be overwhelmed in mid-April turned out to be incorrect. He also argued that the federal government needed to build mobile hospitals and provide more ventilators to handle the surge. But the state had a sufficient number of ventilators and hospital beds, and mobile hospitals like the one at the San Mateo County Event Center haven’t been used.
Newsom hasn’t given a specific date for when he would allow the first stage of reopening the state. He has said that more testing needs to occur, but he hasn’t said how many tests are needed to meet his goal.
San Mateo County beach rules
San Mateo County had previously issued an order allowing recreational activities within 5 miles of their homes. On Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, that city’s police officers contacted 853 beachgoers and ordered 535 off the beach after learning they lived more than 5 miles away, police said.
State officials are collaborating with the CHP, state park patrols and other agencies to enhance enforcement
provisions against people who leave their homes for non-essential reasons.
“We will avail ourselves to more aggressive enforcement of the stay-at-home order, of the social distancing, of the guidelines and procedures that we expect to be followed all across the state of California,” Newsom said.
Newsom also announced that Nevada and Colorado joined California, Oregon and Washington in the Western States Pact, allowing all five states to collaborate on a strategy to combat the coronavirus and, eventually, begin re-opening their economies and societies. Colorado, however, has already begun reopening by allowing retailers to offer curbside pickup and letting hair salons and dental offices to open their doors.
Health officials around the state have confirmed a total of 43,464 coronavirus cases, including 1,755 deaths, according to Newsom. In addition, 1,185 people are in intensive care due to the virus and 3,372 are currently hospitalized across the state.