With Los Angeles County’s beaches allowed to reopen, officials warned residents Monday that ignoring public safety guidelines will slow down the county’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Photos showed crowding at Malibu’s beaches over the weekend, with many people sunbathing on the sand with uncovered faces — despite strict county restrictions that mandate facial coverings during active-use of the beaches.
Asked about beachgoers’ compliance with health orders during a news conference Monday, the county’s public health director Barbara Ferrer said people were, for the most part, using face coverings and keeping their distance for active recreation, but “I do know that that wasn’t the case in Malibu,” she said.
“If people are going to blatantly disregard their obligation to make it safe for others, it’s impossible to continue to move down a path towards recovery, because this is what will end up overwhelming our healthcare system,” Ferrer said.
A local reporter asked officials during the news conference if they were aware of a “disaster” situation at Zuma Beach, describing hundreds of people congregating at night time parties.
“The only way we’re going to get to a position where we go into the next phase is by people acting responsibly,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “So when I hear stories like this, it frustrates me… I would hope that people would use common sense.”
Pono Barnes of L.A. County Lifeguards said the surf drew a lot of people to the water and the county’s beaches were busier than usual, but the crowds were spread out all throughout the beaches.
With parking lots closed and people parking in residential parking spots, the crowds weren’t centralized —as they normally are —near parking lots.
Barnes said lifeguards did their best to advise beachgoers to comply with orders, and it was a “mixed bag of compliance.”
But lifeguards up and down the county’s coast also had their hands full over the weekend. Between Friday and Sunday, there were 452 ocean rescues, compared with 14 during the same time last year, Barnes said, explaining that there were powerful rip currents in the waters Monday.
He urged beachgoers to swim near an open lifeguard tower and check with the lifeguard on current beach conditions.
The L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors is still examining attendance at the beaches, said spokeswoman Nicole Mooradian, adding that it’s still too early to tell if more action is needed to mitigate crowding.
She said in general, beachgoers were maintaining 6 feet distance from others, although there were some sunbathers. She also noted there was some heavier crowding on beaches in the northern part of the county, with Torrance and Redondo Beach seeing better compliance.
“We’re really happy to open beaches but we need people to respect guidelines,” Mooradian said. “We can’t have it too crowded, that’s why we say only active recreation. Don’t come and sunbathe for six hours because that’s time where someone else could be at the beaches.”
The L.A. County Sheriffs Department didn’t issue any citations to tickets to any Malibu beachgoers, according to Malibu station Lt. Carillo, who said it would be an overstatement to say the beaches were over crowded.
Both Mooradian and Barnes said it’s up to beachgoers to follow the orders, and each city’s local officials might enforce them differently.
“You don’t know when you’re in a public place, who the people are that are around you who may have underlying health conditions, and may in fact be the very person that is going to end up in the hospital because you didn’t make that extra effort to put on that face covering and to keep your distance,” Ferrer said.
Even as officials allow more spaces to reopen, with 38,451 known infections, L.A. County remains the epicenter of the pandemic in California.
“These restrictions are only here to allow us to move quickly in through all the phases of recovery. We don’t have anything else to offer. We have each other,” Ferrer said.
Here’s what you can and can’t do at L.A. County Beaches
- Individual or family ocean activities (examples include surfing, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, body surfing)
- Individual or family active recreation and exercise (examples include walking, jogging and running)
- Sunbathing, sitting or lying on sand
- The use of chairs, beach umbrellas, canopies or coolers
- Group or organized sports, such as beach volleyball
- Gatherings or events
What you’re required to do:
- Keep more than 6 feet away from others at all times (except between members of same household)
- Wear face coverings when out of the water and around others (except for children under age 2 and those with breathing problems)
- Stay at home if you or someone you live with is sick