Police: California beachgoers mostly keeping social distance

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A week after Californians weary of stay-at-home orders packed beaches, authorities pleaded for weekend visitors to follow social distancing rules: no bunching, keep walking or swimming, and leave the umbrellas at home.

Lifeguards and police were out in force Saturday even in cities that are battling Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new order that took effect Friday and singled out Orange County beaches for closure.

Huntington Beach was mostly empty on Saturday as officers patrolling on foot and on helicopter issued warnings to people who hit the sands. A police spokeswoman said people were cooperating and no citations have been issued as of Saturday afternoon.

In neighboring Newport Beach, police put out barricades and spoke with surfers to advise them of the closure, and said people were quick to comply.

In San Diego, where people can exercise on the beach but not linger, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer praised residents for heeding safety restrictions that public health officials have credited at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

But he urged them to redouble their efforts over the weekend.

“We need your help, we need your cooperation, and we need your patience,” Faulconer said. “We’re not going to lose all of the gains that we’ve made.”

City Lifeguard Services Lt. Rich Stropky told KFMB-TV most people were following guidelines on Saturday.

“Most people understand this is serious and if we don’t do this right, we could lose the privilege of using the beaches,” Stropky said.

Orange County beach cities argue that most of the tens of thousands of people who hit their shores last weekend did practice anti-virus safety measures and fumed that they were being unfairly singled out.

On Friday, an Orange County judge refused a request by Huntington Beach and others to block Newsom’s order. Judge Nathan Scott said he weighed the harm the closures caused the city and others, but the virus’s threat to public safety should take priority. He said he will consider the issue again May 11 after the city, state and others have briefed the court in more detail.

Newport Beach council members voted Saturday to support a lawsuit by other coastal cities seeking to reopen Orange County beaches but in the meantime officers were patrolling the beaches to remind people of the closure.

In Northern California, Santa Cruz County began on Saturday to close all beaches between 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to let residents visit the beach in the early morning or sunset hours and deter visitors from driving long distances to hang out there.

Beaches are just the latest focus for frustrations over Newsom’s month-and-a-half-old order requiring nearly 40 million residents to remain mostly indoors. Businesses not deemed essential are closed until COVID-19 testing, hospital and death rates indicate the state outbreak is beginning to ease. Millions have been thrown out of work.

While Newsom has promised a cautious, phased reopening of the state, protesters don’t want to wait.

In Huntington Beach, police estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people gathered for May Day on a beachside street. They waved American flags and held signs. But most of them wore no masks and didn’t practice social distancing.

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