Beachgoers prompt California to ramp up virus restrictions

People hang out in Huntington Beach on Sunday as a lingering heatwave drive crowds to California’s beaches. (AP pic)

SACRAMENTO: California will step up enforcement of coronavirus-related public health restrictions after crowds jammed beaches over the weekend, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday.

Newsom’s announcement came after local officials in Orange and Ventura Counties allowed access to their beaches even as state parks remained closed, prompting families and groups to head to the ocean on a warm spring weekend.

The crowds put at risk the state’s progress in slowing the advance of the novel coronavirus and possibly could delay a possible loosening of restrictions that was just weeks away, said Newsom, a Democrat.

The beach crowds exemplify the tension that officials throughout the US are dealing with as residents chafe under stay-at-home orders and some states begin to loosen them.

Newsom said he would not direct state police or park rangers to issue citations to individuals who were just out quietly with their children or walking their dogs.

“I don’t want to be punitive,” he said.

“They just want to take a rest on the beach and all of a sudden they get a citation – I don’t want to see that. But if there are people thumbing their nose and taking a risk … I think we may have to do a little bit more.”

The two counties that opened their beaches are reconsidering their plans after people thronged their shoreline spots, prompting criticism from public health authorities, Newsom said.

Two additional states, Nevada and Colorado, have joined with California, Oregon and Washington to develop a Western regional plan for reopening the troubled economy and allowing residents to begin at least some more typical social interactions.

But Newsom warned that fatalities and new cases were still ongoing in California, where 45 people died of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours and 1,300 additional cases were diagnosed.

“The virus is as transmissible as it’s ever been,” Newsom said.

“It doesn’t take the weekend off. It doesn’t take any time off. It is ubiquitous, it is invisible and it remains deadly.”

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