Ventura Co. officials ‘pleased’ beaches and parks can remain open, but remind residents not to congregate

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Ventura County officials on Friday said they were glad beaches, parks and trails could remain open for outdoor activities during the coronavirus pandemic, but reminded residents not to congregate while getting exercise.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom was mulling the possible closure of all California beaches after a spring heat wave drew large crowds to some areas, Ventura County officials said their residents abided by social distancing guidelines while visiting open parks and beaches there.

Newsom eventually issued the closure of beaches in Orange County, where images of crowded beaches, piers and boardwalks caused a stir last weekend.

“I am so pleased that our beaches here locally will remain open,” Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers said during a news briefing Friday.

He said that the governor’s office allowed outdoors spaces to remain open because of good safety and community leadership.

“That’s what made the difference last time and we know it’s going to make the difference this weekend,” Powers said ahead of another warm weekend. “And it has to, because we know all eyes are going to be on us and watching … I’m sure the governor will be watching.”

Officials reminded residents that the outdoor spaces are open only for physical activities and that bathrooms, parking lots, campgrounds and other amenities are closed. They said residents and beachgoers should leave coolers, blankets, umbrellas, and other items that may encourage longer stays, at home.

Sheriff Bill Ayub said Friday that parking will not be allowed along Pacific Coast Highway from Mugu Rock in the county’s South Coast to the border with Los Angeles County.

The stretch is popular with residents as well as visitors from other areas, Ayub explained, and that it is crucial that motorists don’t stop or slow down while looking for where to park.

The sheriff added that sudden stopping led to a fatal crash along the PCH at Deer Creek Road just Friday morning. Both sides of the roadway were closed after the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol incident page.

Law enforcement officers will continue to patrol area beaches to make sure residents are complying with the county’s health order, Ayub said.

“We don’t like regulating activity to that kind of level. We like chasing bad guys and putting bad people in jail and preventing crime, but we also want to get through this crisis and minimize the impact on our health care system and, quite frankly, save lives, and these measures are being put in place to do just that,” the sheriff said. “We want to maintain control of our beaches, allow them to be available for recreating, for residents and visitors to enjoy their natural beauty and to get some fresh air, and we’d like to keep them open.”

On Friday, about 250 to 300 people were protesting the ongoing health order in front of the county government center in Ventura. Ayub said demonstrators were exposing themselves and others to potential illness.

“It’s disappointing to see such a flagrant disregard for the health orders. The participants expose themselves to sickness, as well as potential criminal or civil culpability,” Ayub said. “These folks who are congregating are violating the law. The idea of police officers sweeping in … is pretty unpalatable.”

As of Friday, the county had a total of 544 coronavirus cases with 18 deaths, according to Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas.

While officials have continued to tout the county’s relatively low numbers, Dr. John Fankhauser, the CEO of Ventura County Medical Center, said the virus has not gone way.

‘We’re not done with this threat. This is a dangerous virus,” Fankhauser said. “I want to urge you to continue adhering to the measures our public health department has placed for our own good and for our own safety, and please be mindful of others as we approach the next chapter of this pandemic.”

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