Coronavirus: Did beachgoers heed Gov. Newsom’s order Saturday?

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Californians seemed to heed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s admonitions to stay home Saturday, bringing to a quiet end a week that started with packed beaches in Orange County that drew widespread condemnation, followed by new beach closures that triggered raucous protests against the state’s shelter-in-place order.

Instead of the flocks of sunbathers defying health directives that some had feared, beaches from Orange County through the Bay Area were largely empty, with a park district in the East Bay reporting busy but manageable hiking and biking trails. In Santa Cruz County, signs on Highway 17 warned would-be day-trippers that beaches there would be closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m to deter crowds during the peak hours.

No dogs were running on the sand at Its Beach, which would typically be packed with them. Instead, the only barking came from a group of sea lions sunning themselves on a rock offshore. It was a far cry from last Saturday, when smaller but still concerning crowds came to local beaches, said Bill Saxton, a 67-year-old stand-up paddleboarder who lives near Natural Bridges State Beach. Saxton said the closures were a good idea.

“If people come together down on the beach it’s going to lead to someone dying,” he said.

People are still allowed to swim and surf when the beaches are closed, but being on the sand for any reason other than going to or coming from the water is prohibited. Protests against shelter orders might be grabbing attention, Saxton said, but as far as he can tell “the vast majority of people are on board and trying to help.”

Only a few dozen people were strolling Main Beach shortly before it closed at 11 a.m.

Among them was Kristen, a bank employee from Oakdale who declined to give her full name. She hadn’t known about the closure until she arrived in Santa Cruz after a two-hour drive from the Central Valley with her sons and one of their friends, believing beach closings were only happening in Southern California.

“We’re just going to play it by ear and see what happens,” she said. Not long after, a Santa Cruz Police pickup truck drove up to Kristen’s group, and a man politely told them they needed to leave.

In Half Moon Bay, restaurant owners said that people were generally respecting orders to stay out of the beaches and to limit their trips to walking distance from their homes. San Mateo County has restricted beaches and parks to people who live within 10 miles and officials have closed parking near the beach to prevent crowds.

Lewis Rossman, executive chef and a partner at Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay said they had been serving crabcakes, lobster rolls and even pints of ice cream to go. He said it’s hard to know which customers live in the small beach communities along the coast, but that business has slowly been picking up over the past few weekends, which allowed them to bring back a few workers out of the nearly 150 they’ve had to let go amid the coronavirus closures.

“On the weekend you definitely do see more traffic on Highway 1, for the most part, people are playing along,” he said.

The restaurant is next to the beach and has a large parking lot, so Rossman said they met with the sheriff’s department and ended up closing off a large portion of it when county officials restricted beach access.

“There’s not a lot of people on the beaches,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything like Newport.”

Newport Beach became the focal point of a statewide fight about beach closures and California’s shelter-in-place order after an Orange County Register photo of crowded beaches went viral. There were some reports Newsom might close beaches statewide, but Thursday he decided to close only those in Orange County.

On Friday, as many as 3,000 protesters gathered in Huntington Beach to protest ongoing closures, calling on Newsom to reopen the state, according to the OC Register. The coronavirus crisis has wreaked havoc on the global economy and pushed 3.9 million Californians to file for unemployment. However, polls show the order is supported by a majority of state residents, and despite progress flattening the coronavirus curve cases continue to increase — Friday was the deadliest single day in the state in over a week, with 98 new fatalities reported.

On Saturday, the sands were mostly empty in Huntington Beach, though people sporadically lounged there, some with beach umbrellas set up. And many others were biking, walking and jogging along the pathways. A helicopter began circling overhead, telling people that the beaches were closed under state order and that everyone should leave. A surfer walking toward the beach aimed his middle finger at the helicopter.

In Laguna, 80-plus demonstrators, some on the sand and in the water, made their displeasure with the governor’s order known. And in Seal Beach, about two dozen people took to the base of the pier around noon to protest the governor’s order, but no citations were handed out, according to a Seal Beach police officer.

Alex Levesque, 28, and Niko Ramirez, 28, both from Chino, were getting out of the ocean at their regular spot in Huntington Beach with their surfboards just before 11 a.m.  They’ve been quarantined for weeks, following all the rules, and started to get restless, they said.

But people were social distancing in the water, they said, since surfers stay apart anyhow. They weren’t trying to make a statement, they added.

They just wanted to surf.

Orange County Registrar reporter Brooke Staggs contributed to this report.

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Author: Leonardo Castañeda, Nico Savidge

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