UPDATED, THURSDAY, 2:30 PM: The Huntington Beach City Council voted in an emergency meeting Wednesday night to close all city beaches, including Huntington Harbor beaches, Sunset Beach and the Pier on July 4.
The city council of Huntington’s northern neighbor, Seal Beach, also voted to close its beaches and parking lots from 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday at sunrise. The city of Santa Barbara also announced the closure all of its beach parking lots through Sunday, July 5. San Luis Obispo County officials were expected to make an announcement Thursday afternoon.
San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson told City News Service she does not favor closing her city’s beaches this weekend, but she was overruled by the county, which ordered all orange county-operated beaches to close from Saturday, July 4, to Sunday, July 5. That includes the area’s Capistrano Beach, Salt Creek Beach, Baby Beach, Poche Beach and Strands Beach. State beach parking lots will be closed.
This means that the vast majority of beaches in Southern California will be closed this weekend.
The beach closures follow an order on Wednesday closing all bars in Orange County. That order that was also put in place later in the day by Gov. Gavin Newsom, affecting 19 counties, including Orange County.
The county order affects all bars, pubs and breweries that do not offer dine-in meals. Establishments serving dine-in food can only sell alcohol in the same transaction as a meal.
The bar closure order was expected ahead of the holiday weekend, given similar action already taken in surrounding counties of Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside.
Orange County officials expressed concern that if they did not act, the county would become a magnet for holiday revelers from across Southern California.
“While we would prefer not to close bars at this time, many of our neighboring counties have closed their bars, and it’s important to take precautions to ensure the safety of the general public,” Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said in a statement Wednesday.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do contended that beaches are not a primary cause of coronavirus spread, but because all the other surrounding beaches are closed as well as bars and restaurants, he said it makes sense to close the county’s beaches so they are not overrun.
On Wednesday, county health officials announced 570 more coronavirus cases and five more deaths, bringing the county’s totals to 14,413 cases and 345 fatalities. On Tuesday, the county reported a one-day record 779 newly-confirmed cases.
Last week was the deadliest of the pandemic in Orange County, with 56 COVID-related fatalities reported. Since Sunday, the county has reported another 22 fatalities.
The number of patients in Orange County hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from 510 on Tuesday to 542 Wednesday, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 176 to 192.
PREVIOUSLY, JULY 1, 3:45 PM: After a lengthy meeting at which the majority of callers asked that area beaches be closed over the Fourth of July weekend, the Newport City Council ordered exactly that on Wednesday. On a 6-1 vote, the council voted to close area beaches to close all of the city’s beaches from 10 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Sunday.
That adds Newport to the list of cities closing their sand, including beaches in Los Angeles, Ventura and Laguna.
Just before the vote, Newport’s mayor noted that Huntington Beach is mostly state beach, which was effectively closed by Governor Gavin Newsom’s new parking restrictions at state beach lots. Bolsa Chica is likewise impacted. That shuts down virtually all the Southern California coastline from Santa Barbara to San Diego ahead of the summer’s biggest holiday.
The city meeting was prompted, in part, by the fact that 2 Newport lifeguards have fallen ill with coronavirus. Another 23 are in quarantine, with more being tested. “I can’t in good conscience add more onto our lifeguards,” said the mayor.
The last time this many beaches closed was in late April, when Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Orange County beaches closed to inhibit the spread of COVID. Ironically, at that time, the same Newport City Council voted to keep their beaches open.
Things seem to have changed drastically, with COVID cases in Orange County spiking over the past few days. The test positivity rate has hit 9.9 percent in the county. That’s well above even Los Angeles’s rate. “Hospitalizations have gone up so much, just in the last week,” noted the mayor before the vote.
PREVIOUSLY, TUESDAY, 2:15 PM:The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Lost Hills Station said via Twitter that Los Angeles County beaches, piers, beach bike paths and beach access points will be closed Friday through Monday for the Fourth of July weekend.
The Lost Hills station, which is local to Malibu, issued the following statement:
Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced the closure of our beaches, piers, beach bike paths, and beach access points beginning 7/3/2020 through 7/6/2020. The Malibu/Lost Hills Station Beach Team will be patrolling the beaches throughout the weekend and late into the evening. This new order makes it illegal to trespass at these locations and is punishable by law to include, but not limited to, a $1000 fine.
Please follow the LA County Health Mandates. We want to ensure the health and safety of all our residents.
The news was later confirmed in a tweet by L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn who wrote, “We cannot risk having crowds at the beach this holiday weekend.”
That, as a heat wave sets in, with near-100 degree temperatures forecast in the Valley by Sunday.
PREVIOUSLY, MONDAY 4:10 PM On Monday, the State of California and the County of Los Angeles both set record highs in new cases. Officials at both levels of government were quick to warn that more restrictive measures may be in the offing.
California Governor Gavin Newsom indicated that he would likely be using the “dimmer switch” to toggle back reopening measures in more hard-hit counties. He said there were seven counties, including Los Angeles, that likely would need to step back their reopenings. If counties are not effective with preventative measures, the state will intervene and close them back down, he said. If counties’ remediation measures are not effective, “I am committed to intervening,” he said.
“Immediate action is needed,” said L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, before warning that increased restrictions may be in the offing.
Asked about the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, Ferrer said, “We are looking at, with our beach mayors, all the options to keep ourselves safe.” Asked if this is a make-or-break week, Ferrer continued, “We can’t sustain this rate of increase in positive cases. This train can be a runaway train if we don’t put the breaks on it. We have to get our heads back into this new normal.”
Both Ferrer and Newsom warned about the impact that even small family gatherings and barbecues could have if they included mixing households.
A report from the L.A. Times today States, “It’s now clear that Memorial Day was the beginning of something. A Los Angeles Times analysis has found that new coronavirus hospitalizations in California began accelerating around June 15 at a rate not seen since early April.”
Memorial Day was on May 25 this year. That’s also about the same time the protests against the death George Floyd and police brutality began. The spike to which the Times refers occurred a little more than two weeks later (14 days is the outside incubation period for COVID-19).
So what does all this mean for the upcoming holiday weekend?
Well, on Friday Governor Newsom ordered hard-hit Imperial County to return to stay-at-home status. On Monday, Newsom said that there were seven counties, including Los Angeles, that likely would need to step back their reopenings. If counties are not effective in the measures, the state will intervene and close them back down, he said.
“We are considering a number of other things to advance and we will make those announcements as appropriate,” said Newsom, “augmenting the orders and advancing even more restrictive ones.”
In fact, the governor could not even wait for his noon press conference today to order bars shut down in those seven counties. He issued that order midday Sunday. It is unlikely, if the numbers continue to escalate, that he will wait until after the long holiday weekend to begin “augmenting” the current restrictions.
California’s new daily total of infections on Monday was 5,916. It was only two weeks ago that the state first broke the 5,000 new cases mark.
In Los Angeles, Ferrer said on Monday that the county saw 2,903 new cases, a record high. The coronavirus has now infected a total of 100,772 people in L.A. County. The cumulative test positivity rate has increased from 8 percent to now 9 percent, according to the health department.
That does not bode well for the Fourth.
City News Service contributed to this report.