Newsom orders temporary closure of all beaches in O.C. after crowds surface in Newport Beach

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All beaches in Orange County must temporarily close over concerns the region is not heeding stay-at-home orders, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The sands of Newport Beach were dotted with beachgoers last weekend, many lounging on the shoreline in groups amid the statewide self-quarantine order. The emergence of photos and video capturing the beach crowds spurred condemnations from Newsom and health officials concerned the defiance of social distancing may lead to a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections.

“The images we saw on a few of our beaches were disturbing,” Newsom said Thursday, later mentioning Orange County specifically while praising Los Angeles and San Diego counties for keeping their coastlines clear.

“We’re gonna do a hard close in that part of the state, just in the Orange County area,” Newsom said.

In a letter to the O.C. Board of Supervisors — members of which expressed discontent with Newsom’s order — the governor’s office said the closures would go into effect on Friday.

“Our State Department of Parks and Recreation is shifting to full closure of all Orange County State Beaches on a temporary basis,” the letter states. “Additionally, beaches operated by local governments in Orange County are directed to institute full closure.”

There will be no public access to the beaches, including their restrooms and parking facilities, according to the letter. No activities, including sunbathing, walking, running or watersports, will be permitted on the beach.

Huntington Beach called an emergency meeting to respond to the order, and the City Council voted 5-2 to take legal action in an attempt to block its enforcement.

“As a city I can tell you that all of us were taken aback by that decision, and we have serious and significant concerns regarding that particular action,” Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta said of Newsom’s directive.

The city of Newport Beach said it plans to follow the governor’s order.

“We heard Governor Newsom’s comments and are awaiting a copy of the actual order,” the city said in a tweet. “The City of Newport Beach intends to honor the Governor’s directive to close Orange County beaches.”

Earlier in the day, the Newport Beach Police Department and the city’s Lifeguard Operation Division released a joint statement claiming beachgoers were in compliance with social distancing rules.

“It was our personal observation, and that of our officers, that the overwhelming majority of Newport Beach residents and visitors were families or practicing social distancing,” the statement read, explaining that those in violation of distancing policies were give verbal warnings by officers.

This week, county officials in O.C. actually moved to reopen businesses and houses of worship with a few restrictions such as being required to wear face coverings. However, those new policies contradict the current statewide stay-at-home orders — which means they can’t go into effect unless state rules change.

On Thursday, county health officials reported another 145 cases of COVID-19 and another person’s death. A total of 45 patients have died and 2,393 people have tested positive.

Sixty-three people infected with the virus are currently being treated in an intensive care unit, about a third of the 190 patients who remain hospitalized, according to health officials.

In just the past week, the number of COVID-19 cases in O.C. surged by another 700 infections. But some of the general public has resisted state orders to remain at home. In Huntington Beach, earlier this month, more than 100 protesters gathered to rally against social distancing. Many of them were dressed in red, white and blue, carrying U.S. flags and signs with messages about freedom.

Some local officials, calling for steps toward reopening, have also defended the crowds seen at Newport Beach last weekend.

“Governor Newsom just doesn’t seem to get it. Orange County residents have been responsible,” Sen. John Moorlach, who represents Costa Mesa, said in a statement. “Indeed, we allow shoppers to go to the grocery store with proper social distancing. Why not the beaches?”

The governor said Thursday the state is working with the county to temporarily close state and local beaches. That change comes after he wrote a memo addressing police chiefs around the state and ordering the closure of all beaches in California.

The memo was widely reported late Wednesday, but on Thursday, Newsom said the state has decided to take a “targeted” approach with respect to “regionalism” and the needs of different areas.

Newsom said Orange County remains one of four major areas of concern in California in regards to the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and being hospitalized. He said he hopes the closure of O.C. beaches is short-term.

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