As California residents ventured outdoors to take advantage of sunshine and relaxed rules to control the spread of coronavirus, authorities said Memorial Day weekend crowds at beaches and parks were manageable Sunday, with most people wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.
Stay-at-home restrictions eased across much of the state, which has seen a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Some 47 of 58 counties have received permission to reopen most stores, restaurants and many public spaces by meeting state standards for controlling the virus.
In the mountain resort community of Big Bear Lake, a steady stream of out-of-town visitors stopped at the Copper Q cafe to pick up to-go coffee and baked goods. The city in San Bernardino County northeast of Los Angeles announced last week that it had decided not to enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s safety orders, arguing it has kept COVID-19 cases manageable and there has been significant economic harm.
On Saturday, the county met state requirements for controlling the virus outbreak and was approved by California health officials to join dozens of counties allowed to move deeper into the second of Newsom’s four-phase reopening.
“It’s not packed, but the crowds are decent,” said Copper Q manager Ashley Coleman. “People are keeping their distance and everyone’s wearing masks of course.”
Many Southern California beaches were open only for swimming, running and other activities. Sunbathing and group activities such as volleyball were prohibited.
Los Angeles County waterfronts saw lighter crowds than anticipated during the first weekend that officials announced reopened bike paths and some seaside parking lots, said Department of Beaches and Harbor spokeswoman Nicole Mooradian.
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“People are definitely taking advantage of the bike paths,” she said. “Everyone's very happy that those are open again.”
Volunteers acted as “goodwill ambassadors” to remind beachgoers to keep moving and not plant chairs and coolers in the sand, Mooradian said. The county partially opened parking lots at popular beaches including Zuma, Dockweiler, Will Rogers, Malibu Surfrider and Torrance.
Mooradian wasn't aware of anyone receiving citations for violating health orders. But she said officials wouldn't hesitate to close beaches if they become overcrowded.
To the south in Orange County, people were out walking dogs, biking and surfing at Huntington Beach. Most were not wearing masks. At nearby Sunset Beach, some people were fishing in the ocean. Despite signs urging people to keep moving, some beachgoers sat in chairs on the sand in the early morning.
The easing of the rules in many counties are the most drastic scaling back of the stay-at-home orders since the governor issued them in mid-March. They include Riverside and Sonoma counties, which won approval Friday to join the others moving deeper into the second of a four-stage reopening plan because they have met state standards for controlling the virus.
Some saw it as a safety test as the state prepared to celebrate its first major holiday weekend since a statewide order in mid-March clamped down on all but essential trips and businesses.
Social distancing practices have been cited as the main reason rates of deaths and hospitalizations have slowed in many counties, and people were urged to keep their masks on and their guard up while enjoying recently reopened bike paths, hiking trails and beaches.
“It’s nice outside. That doesn’t mean #COVID19 has gone away. Wash your hands. Stay 6 feet apart. Wear a face covering. Be smart. Your actions can literally save lives,” Newsom tweeted Sunday.
Meanwhile hundreds of protesters rallied outside the state Capitol on Saturday to protest against the stay-at-home orders. Demonstrators demanded that Newsom fully lift his restrictions on business, religious gatherings and other activities.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Los Angeles County, the state’s largest with 10 million people, has been hardest-hit by COVID-19, with more than 44,000 cases and nearly 2,100 deaths. However, hospitalization and increased testing, which allows for quicker identification, treatment and isolation of people who tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts, helped slow the spread of infections, health officials said Saturday.
The state is still seeing troubling COVID-19 flare-ups, however. Imperial County, across the border from Mexico, has seen a surge. In Northern California, Santa Cruz County’s public health officials were investigating four separate clusters of COVID-19 cases involving family gatherings, including a multi-generational Mother’s Day party and a large gathering involving individuals who traveled from out-of-state.
In San Francisco, officials drew large chalk “social distancing” circles on the grass at parks to show people where to sit. Dolores Park has seen large masses of people on sunny weekends, prompting Mayor London Breed to warn that she would shut it down if people weren’t more responsible.
Suffering economically after more than two months of business shutdowns and fewer crowds, some popular getaway communities welcomed visitors.
But South Lake Tahoe in the northern Sierra Nevada and Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra urged non-residents to stay away, concerned that swarms of tourists might spur more COVID-19 cases and overwhelm their medical systems.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office warned that its beaches would be closed except for a few hours in the morning and strongly discouraged tourism from the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Sacramento areas.
Nguyen reported from Oakland, California.