After crowds of people packed beaches across Orange County during last weekend’s heatwave, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, April 30 shutdown beaches across the Orange County coastline, prompting ire from local officials.
Newsom’s decision to close down Orange County beaches — in what he called a “temporary pause” — follows a weekend heatwave in which Californians flocked to the beaches despite the safer-at-home and physical distancing measures that are still in place.
He added that the beaches may reopen “if we can get some framework and guidelines to get this right.”
Newsom’s beach closure order was announced on the same day that Orange County reported 145 new cases of the COVID-19 virus, the most in one day.
“The reality is we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order,” Newsom said during a news conference on Monday. “However, that’s driven by data, it’s driven by behavior and as we change our behavior, we can impact the science, the health and the data.”
Earlier this week, law enforcement memo was widely disseminated that indicated that Newsom intended to close all state beaches as well as parks — not just in Orange County — starting Friday, May 1.
However, in a news conference on Thursday, Newsom said that he didn’t see the memo.
“We just want to focus on where there’s a problem,” he explained. “We don’t want to be heavy-handed about these things.”
The choice to single out Orange County came after Newport Beach had a reported 90,000 beachgoers last weekend; this week, Newport Beach City Council voted to keep its beaches open with physical distancing measures.
Newsom said that of the hundred beaches that line the Golden State’s coast, Orange County beaches were packed with large crowds of people.
On Monday, Newsom expressed frustration over the photos and videos of beachgoers crowding the shore in both Orange and Ventura counties.
“Those images are an example of what not to see, people, what not to do if we’re going to make meaningful progress that we’ve made in the last few weeks extending into the next number of weeks,” the governor said, making a pointed message to Californians who have been disobeying stay-at-home orders.
“I cannot impress upon you more, to those Californians watching, that we can’t see the images like we saw, particularly on Saturday [April 25] in Newport Beach and elsewhere in the state of California,” he added.
But Orange County officials pushed back on Newsom’s decision, claiming that the governor’s decision was based on overblown media coverage of the beaches’ attendance last weekend.
“The photographs I saw, quite honestly, are a stark contrast to what I believe the governor is acting on,” said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, adding that he doesn’t believe there are grounds “to enforce any aspect of that through arrest.”
Moreover, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steele said that the beach closures are “a clear example of unnecessary government overreach” and Newsom’s reasoning was “arbitrary and capricious and an act of retribution against Orange County.”
Just a few miles north along the Pacific Coast Highway, residents in Huntington Beach have been gathering together in protest of the beach closures and the safer-at-home measures in general.
Many of them, foregoing any personal protective equipment like face masks or gloves, are calling for the reopening of businesses and schools as well as the lifting of other restrictive measures. Hyper-patriotism and making pleas for the reinstatement of their freedoms as Americans are common rallying cries among these protesters, an extreme perspective of nearly everyone’s desire to return back to normal life.
But as long as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread and the number of cases and deaths escalate, physical distancing measures and social restrictions are key to reopening the state, Newsom said.
Even though the state announced a plan on Tuesday to slowly reopen the state, California is not rushing to return to 100% normalcy.
“The virus doesn’t take weekends off. The virus doesn’t go home. We have to manage and augment our behavior,” Newsom said on Monday. “The only thing that will set us back is people stopping practicing physical distancing.”