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Officials in Ventura County and Newport Beach on Thursday defended beachgoers’ actions last weekend before Gov. Gavin Newsom announce a new order to close all beaches in Orange County.

The first heat wave of the year brought crowds out to cool off along open stretches of coast last weekend, but most who showed up to Newport Beach and beaches in Ventura County were practicing social distancing, officials in both areas said.

Personnel from the Newport Beach Police Department and Newport Beach Fire’s Lifeguard Operation Division patrolled beaches last Friday, Saturday and Sunday and found that, by and large, people were complying with physical distancing rules aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“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,” a joint statement from the heads of both agencies read.

A photo of Newport Beachgoers on April 25, 2015. (Newport Beach Police Department)
A photo of Newport Beachgoers on April 25, 2015. (Newport Beach Police Department)

That was evidenced not just on the ground, but during air patrols as well, according to the statement.

Some clusters of people were found not to have been physically distancing from others. But in those instances, police officers and lifeguards simply reminded and educated individuals on the importance of following the measure, officials said.

The agencies noted that while photos showed some beachgoers in close contact, aerial images taken at the peak of attendance — about 2:30 p.m. Saturday — demonstrate more broadly what officers saw across seven miles of coast.

The pictures they released show sparse crowds of people dotting the beaches, appearing to keep at least six feet of distance from others.

But Newsom disagreed with the officials’ assessment, citing other photos and videos from the scene as a reason for his order to issue a “hard close” of state and local beaches in the county.

“Specific issues on some of those beaches have raised alarm bells,” he said. “People that are congregating there that weren’t practicing physical distancing.” 

He added that Orange County is one of the four largest areas of concern in the state in terms of positive coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations.

In Ventura County, officials praised residents and visitors for doing a “great job” of adhering to the “keep moving” guidelines that were set forth at area beaches before last weekend.

People there were allowed to walk, run, swim and surf, so long as they didn’t congregate or linger. Items like coolers, beach chairs and tarps were prohibited to encourage visitors to not lay out in the sand. Parking lots and bathrooms were also shut down to the public.

“We were able to capture beach density with our drone which really painted the picture that we did not have crowds at our beaches. As a county, we clearly did it the right way,” City of Port Hueneme Police Chief Andrew Salinas said.

He added:”We did receive complaints of people upset that we had our beaches open because of what they were seeing on TV in other counties. If people came to the beach, they would have seen how there was order and people were safely enjoying their time.”

Officials had previously thanked Ventura County residents for adhering to guidelines during the weekend heatwave.

The statements released from Newport Beach and Ventura County officials came prior to Newsom’s announcement. He had been expected to order the closure of closed all beahes, according to a memo distributed to the membership of the California Police Chiefs’ Association.

Instead, the governor singled out Orange County, putting what he described as a “temporary pause” on area beaches.

“I hope it’s a very short term adjustment. I’m confident it will be cause the spirit that defines the moment is disproportionately the spirit of cooperation,” he said.