California is reopening some beaches as the state heads into a hot weekend, with the governor urging residents to practice strict physical distancing if they go outside.
While many Los Angeles area beaches remain closed to the public due to Covid-19, a handful will allow visitors in a limited capacity while adopting a wide range of restrictions, enforcement plans and recommendations.
California ordered one of the earliest lockdowns in the country last month, and has made some progress in slowing the spread of the virus. Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor, said he did not want to have to report a spike in cases due to residents being irresponsible in the warm weather, with weekend temperatures expected to climb above 90F (32C) in some areas.
“People are prone to want to go to the beaches, parks, playgrounds and go on a hike,” Newsom said in a news briefing on Thursday after announcing that California had suffered its deadliest day since the start of the outbreak. “If it is open, just abide by social distancing, practice physical distancing.”
The policies vary widely across regions. In Ventura county, north of LA, officials have relaxed beach closure rules, saying residents can now visit and walk on the sand or pier, but should not sit down or fish.
In San Clemente in Orange county, the local council voted to reopen the beach for recreational activity such as walking, running, swimming and surfing, but have also said residents should not bring a blanket and hang out. The city is attempting to limit access to local residents by keeping parking lots closed, and other Orange county officials have urged out-of-town residents not to visit the beaches and parks that remain open.
In LA, popular beach and park spots remain largely closed, including the world-famous pier and boardwalk at Venice beach.
The question of beach closures has sparked intense debate across the US, which will likely become more contentious if various lockdowns and restrictions continue into the summer. The reopening of the beaches in Florida last week led to backlash from some who feared early moves to ease restrictions could lead to a second wave of Covid-19.
Some experts, however, have argued that governments should find ways to allow people to visit beaches while strongly encouraging distancing, mask-wearing and other safety measures. Getting outside can benefit people’s health, and there are concerns that overly broad restrictions on public spaces could result in people gathering indoors, which would be more dangerous.
“Outdoor access has strongly proven links to mental health, emotional wellness, physical health,” said Lucas Zucker, policy director for Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, an environmental justice group in California. “We certainly trust the expertise of public health officials. But like so many other social and economic disparities, access to open space was an issue of huge inequality before the crisis.”
Zucker was wary of rules that tried to limit beach access to locals of the municipalities on the coast, noting that the population of those cities, such as Santa Monica and Venice, are generally wealthier and less diverse.
In southern California, the surfing community has also been divided on the beach rules, with an informal poll by the Surfer publication finding that many surfers believed they could practice safe social distancing while on the water and were opposed to restrictions.
“We’re seeing surfers getting a kind of itch that they are not familiar with,” said Todd Prodanovich, editor of Surfer, noting that there was no precedent for this kind of indefinite shutdown of so many beaches.
But Prodanovich also said he had no interest in trying to protest government orders: “Do I miss surfing? Yes. Do I think a lot of surfers could do this safely? Yes. Do I think it’s so important for us to surf right now that public health officials should be accommodating us over whatever larger plan they have? No. We’re just having fun in the ocean.”