Overcrowding at some California beaches and parks has given local officials second thoughts about keeping them open next weekend at the risk of reversing progress made in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and causing a deadly surge of cases.
Officials in Newport Beach on Sunday called for a special meeting to consider shutting beaches for everybody during the next few weekends or closing roadways leading to the shoreline to keep visitors away.
Over the weekend, a spring heat wave lured tens of thousands of people to the Orange County city, where residents compared the crowd size to something typically seen on the July 4 holiday.
Visitors cruised around seaside neighborhoods searching for parking and packed sidewalks that are inches from people’s front yards, said Diane Dixon, a councilwoman whose district run along the beach.
“The residents are accustomed to summer visitors. This is not an issue in normal times. But in a pandemic it creates at lot of concerns, and our older residents are especially at risk,” Dixon said.
Neighboring Huntington Beach also had big gatherings, despite the closure of beach parking lots and metered parking along Pacific Coast Highway.
Weekend temperatures reached the 80s and 90s in much of the state. While most recreation remains shuttered under various orders, officials were wary that those areas still open could draw people who will ignore rules to stay separated and seek sun and air after being mainly confined indoors for more than a month.
Some beaches had more restrictions than others depending on the governmental agencies in charge of different segments of the coastline.
San Diego County officials said they would open their beaches starting Monday to all water activities except recreational boating but left it to coastal cities to decide when or how they will reopen their own beaches.
The county’s decision on Friday caught the cities by surprise, and they scrambled over the weekend to come up with plans. Carlsbad officials voted to keep city beaches, parks and trails closed until they can consider a phased reopening and Encinitas will reopen a beach only for walking, running and water activities.
Los Angeles, city and county beaches, trails and playgrounds were closed. Officers on horseback patrolled those areas to enforce social distancing rules.
“We won’t let one weekend undo a month of progress. While the sunshine is tempting, we’re staying home to save lives,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted Sunday. “The places we love — our beaches, hiking trails — will still be there when this is over. And by staying home, we’re making sure our loved ones will be too.”
To the north, police in Pacific Grove said they had to close the picturesque Lovers Point Park and Beach at the southern end of Monterey Bay on Saturday because of a lack of social distancing.
Crowding at a sprawling network of parks east of the city also prompted the East Bay Regional Park District to urge visitors to help keep the parks open by following social distancing norms. A park official said some people gathered in large groups Saturday, with some refusing to to leave closed picnic areas after being asked to do so.
In Sacramento, boats crowded the water at Discovery Park and many families set up blankets and chairs by the riverside.
“We want to continue to remind the community that yes, the weather is nice, but COVID-19 is still around, and we’ve been making some great progress,” Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Zaheem Buksh told KCRA-TV.
California has had more than 43,500 coronavirus cases and 1,700 deaths, more than half of them in the Los Angeles area, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Last week, health officials announced a Santa Clara County woman died in early February from COVID-19 — weeks before the first previously known U.S. death from the virus. An autopsy released by the county Saturday concluded she suffered a massive heart attack caused by coronavirus infection, which also spread to her trachea, lungs and intestines.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.
Cases continue to grow in California but at a manageable pace that hasn’t overwhelmed hospitals, health authorities have said. State and local stay-at-home orders have been cited as successfully slowing the rise in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths. Recent polls show Californians overwhelmingly support them.
There have been small protests by people who want to reopen the state, contending their liberty and livelihoods are at stake. Dozens rallied in Pacific Beach on Sunday.
Three people were arrested at a rally Saturday in Encinitas, just north of San Diego, and cited for violating health orders, sheriff’s Lt. Ricardo Lopez said.
Nguyen reported from Oakland, California.