By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Californians locked down for weeks during the coronavirus pandemic have trickled back to local beaches as the weather warms, prompting Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday to plead for social distancing during a heat wave expected this weekend.
Newsom, in his daily remarks on the response to the outbreak, appeared to concede that the state’s beaches would be an irresistible lure to residents, who have been largely confined to their homes since mid-March.
“We’re walking into a very warm weekend. People are prone to want to go to the beaches, parks, playgrounds and go on a hike, and I anticipate there will be significant increase in volume,” the governor said.
“But I also think if there is and people aren’t practicing physical distancing, I’ll be announcing again these numbers going back up,” Newsom said, referring to a slight downward tick in new hospitalizations and admissions to intensive-care units.
California, the nation’s most populous state, recorded its deadliest day yet in the pandemic, with 115 fatalities in the 24 hours from Wednesday to Thursday.
Newsom has been credited with taking early action to lock down the state as cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, spread in early March, and California has seen fewer cases than New York and other East Coast states.
California’s beaches are under a patchwork of state and local jurisdictions, which means some have remained open while others were shut.
Los Angeles County closed all its beaches – including parking lots, bike paths, showers and restrooms – during the coronavirus outbreak, but leaders in neighboring Orange County voted to keep some open.
Amid a debate over whether residents are safer in open spaces such as the beach, officials in San Clemente in southern Orange County voted this week to reopen city beaches that they closed two weeks ago, the Orange County Register reported.
This week in Huntington Beach, an Orange County city that has both state and local beaches as well as the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, surfers could be seen in the water on either side of a closed pier as sunbathers watched from the sand and joggers used pedestrian paths.
Lifeguards at Huntington Beach’s main stretch of shoreline counted about 9,000 people on the sand and in the water on Thursday, according to local CBS television affiliate KCBS.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore urged residents to avoid flocking to beaches and trailheads as summery weather returns, the Los Angeles City News Service (CNS) reported.
“Save police the awkwardness of us having to admonish you and advise and direct you for something that you already know,” CNS quoted Moore as saying. “With that, our men and women can stay focused on public safety.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson in Huntington Beach; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle)