California Governor Gavin Newsom will order all beaches and state parks closed starting from Friday after people thronged to the seashore during a sweltering weekend despite his social distancing order, according to a memo sent to police chiefs around the state.
Eric Nunez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said it was sent to the group’s members on Wednesday evening so they have time to plan before Newsom’s expected announcement on Thursday.
A message to the governor’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned.
While most state parks and many local beaches, trails and parks have been closed for weeks, Newsom’s order is sure to ignite furore from communities who say they can safely provide some relief to residents who are starved of fresh air.
Pressure is building to ease state and local restrictions that have throttled the state’s economy, closing most businesses and adding nearly four million people to unemployment rolls.
On Wednesday, six San Francisco Bay Area counties that imposed the first broad stay-at-home orders in California loosened them slightly to allow for landscaping, construction and other outdoor businesses, such as flea markets and nurseries, so long as social distancing is maintained.
And in what could be a critical addition for many parents, it specifies that summer camps are allowed, but only if kids stay in small groups and their parents are considered to hold essential jobs, such as healthcare workers.
Some recreational bans also were eased, but not all in the same way. For instance, tennis will be OK in Sacramento starting from Friday, but not in San Francisco.
Compounding the confusion: Some elements of the revised orders will not take effect because they conflict with the statewide stay-at-home order, which is still in place.
In Riverside County, authorities said its local order will end on Thursday and be replaced by less-restrictive measures. Trails and parks will be open for hiking, biking and horse riding as long as visitors wear masks.
Health officials, however, warn that more mingling brings the potential for more infection and the government should tread gingerly when easing restrictions so as not to ignite another surge in coronavirus cases.
Newsom’s beach order follows a weekend in which some 80,000 people flocked to Newport Beach in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, with thousands more gathering at beaches in Ventura County, north of LA.
An Orange County supervisor, Donald P. Wagner, issued a statement saying he believes Newsom has the power to close local beaches but “it is not wise to do so”.
“Orange County citizens have been cooperative with state and county restrictions thus far. I fear that this overreaction from the state will undermine that cooperative attitude and our collective efforts to fight the disease,” he said.
Beaches in Los Angeles County remain closed.
Lifeguards said most people appeared to be heeding social distance safety rules such as limiting groups and not lingering on the sand. But the crowds irked Newsom, who has said California’s 40 million residents should try to stay home as much as possible.
“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off. This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts,” he said on Monday.