SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered beaches in Orange County to close until further notice.
Newsom made the announcement Thursday, days after tens of thousands of people in Orange County packed beaches during a sunny weekend.
Newsom said he hopes the order won’t last very long. But he said he felt he had to do it to protect public health.
A memo to the state’s police chiefs on Wednesday indicated Newsom planned to close all beaches in the state.
But Thursday, Newsom said the order only applied to beaches in Orange County. Several California coastal communities have allowed beaches to be open with some restrictions.
When asked about the memo, the governor said it "never got to [him.]
Newsom said for those doing good work, the state wants to reward that.
"In San Diego and L.A. and others, they have done an outstanding job," he said. "And we want to just focus on where there's a problem. So that's been where I've been the entire time."
The governor said he wanted to focus on the problem areas in a smart, strategic way. He said the guidance the state will continue to provide will be based on data, science, the spread of the virus and public health officials.
"This determination was made in concert with all those groups, but none more important than our public health team," Newsom said.
The governor explained his focus on Southern California noting which counties are seen as areas of concern.
"L.A. County, San Diego County, Orange County, those are three of the four largest areas of concern in this state as it relates to total number of people that have tested positive. And the total number of people that have been hospitalized," Newsom said. "So, Orange County's been on our list of health concerns. And they've done a wonderful job down there. I just think we can take that up a little bit. And so we're gonna have a temporary pause on the beaches down there: state, local beaches."
Several city and county officials reacted Thursday amid reports that Newsom would order all California beaches closed on May 1.
Dianne Jacob, County Supervisor for District 2, sent a letter to Newsom about the beach closures. It reads in part:
“Now is not the time to further erode the judgment and authority of county public health officers and local government leaders. While you have every right to be concerned about areas of California that have been flooded with beachgoers, not every region experienced the same activity and shouldn’t be treated with a broad brush. The reopening plan in San Diego County was based on data and executed successfully,” Jacob said.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer sent out a tweet Thursday morning after reports about the governor expected to close California's beaches:
"San Diegans have been following the rules set by our public health officials and lifeguards since beaches reopened this week. A sudden state ban on every single beach — regardless of the facts on the ground — sends the wrong message to regions where people are acting responsibly."
Faulconer later tweeted about the "great news" that San Diego beaches would stay open.
As for numbers in California, Newsom said the number of deaths jumped in the last 24 hours to 95 while the number of hospitalized and ICU patients went up less than 1%.
Health officials, however, warn that more mingling also brings the potential for more infection and the government should tread gingerly when easing restrictions so as not to ignite another surge in coronavirus cases.
Last weekend, some 80,000 people flocked to Newport Beach in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, with additional thousands gathering at open beaches in Ventura County, north of LA.
Lifeguards said most people appeared to be heeding social distance safety rules such as limiting groups and not lingering on the sand. But the crowds irked Newsom, who has said California's 40 million residents should try to stay home as much as possible.
“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off, this virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts,” he said Monday.
The same day, beaches across San Diego County reopened. A day later, Newport Beach officials rejected a plan to close the city beaches for three consecutive weekends.
California is approaching 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, although the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested.
However, virus hospitalizations have been virtually flat for several weeks in California and the state has dodged the dreaded massive surge of patients experienced by New York and several other states.
Newsom has praised Californians for helping “flatten the curve" of the outbreak through social distancing but he also is reluctant to follow the examples of Georgia, Florida and several other states that are moving more rapidly to restart their economies.
Newsom reiterated Wednesday it would be weeks before he makes the first significant modification to the state order, urging people to remain at home to prevent unintended outbreaks among the state’s most high-risk populations, including nursing homes.
“It won’t be on the basis of pressure, it won’t be on the basis of what we want, but what we need to do,” Newsom said. “And what we need to do from my humble perspective is listen to the public health experts.”
But each of the state’s 58 counties have their own public health experts, and many are starting to ask Newsom to open up the state. This week, seven rural Northern California counties with low numbers of COVID-19 cases have asked Newsom to let them reopen.
On Thursday, the governor also announced a new portal to help Californians working in essential sectors find safe, reliable, and accessible child care options. The statewide portal can be used to find open childcare providers near you.