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California beaches back in business: People 'don't want to be trapped at home'

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 5/24/2020 By Alex Wigglesworth, Andrew Turner, Los Angeles Times

Slideshow by photo services 

LOS ANGELES — Memorial Day weekend brought crowds to beaches, trails and parks, but officials said that for the most part there were no major problems and that most people appeared to be following social distancing rules.

Health officials have said this holiday weekend will be a big test of whether California can ease stay-at-home restrictions while continuing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

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State officials have now cleared 47 counties to resume in-restaurant dining and in-store shopping. Among the latest were Orange and Riverside, two of California’s largest population centers. In Orange County — which saw a spike in COVID-19 deaths over the last week — officials said they were thrilled they could begin reopening the battered economy.

Newport Beach Lifeguard Battalion Chief Brian O’Rourke described the numbers at the city’s beaches on Saturday as moderate and in keeping with expectations for Memorial Day weekend.

O’Rourke added that active use was encouraged, which includes reinforcement with signage. With beachgoers heading for the water, lifeguards’ attention was required there — O’Rourke said there were about 50 ocean rescues on Friday. 

Laguna Beach Marine Safety Capt. Kai Bond, interviewed Saturday, said there were “some summer-like crowds” and that the public was generally following the rules.

Beachgoers found sand and surf in Huntington Beach, although the pier remained gated off, but they still had plenty to do.

Zack’s, on the west side of the pier, was offering nearly all of its services except surfing lessons.

Joseph Ali, 32, of Huntington Beach, a manager at Zack’s, said Saturday that “procedure and safety” remained top priority for the business and that surfing lessons were “too hands-on” to provide while the coronavirus pandemic continued to be a concern.

Zack’s, which also serves food and provides bike rentals, was operating in those capacities, two weeks removed from its own reopening. Ali, watching over a grill full of hot dogs, said customers were grateful they were open again.

“They want to enjoy the beach,” Ali said. “They want to feel like they’re normal again. They don’t want to be trapped at home again. … It’s good for business, it’s good for the community, it brings revenue to the city. We’re here feeding the people, renting bikes; everything’s going great so far.”

Main Street enjoyed improved foot traffic in the second stage of reopening, allowing some businesses to open their doors with alterations to continue to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Ali is pleased that more establishments have been able to open.

“We are happy that everyone is open,” he said. “Main Street, the beach, the lifeguards, the police, the enforcement, we are all working together to, No. 1, keep our beaches safe (and), No. 2, have convenience for the beachgoers.”

Jason Schriner of Riverside enjoyed a bite to eat on Saturday with his wife, Stacy, and young daughter on a low wall near the beachside bike path in Huntington Beach. He said he was concerned about restaurants that still couldn’t offer dine-in service.

“How many people are actually going to go and pay retail prices and not enjoy sitting down and having a meal?” he said. “That’s the big problem. You go out to eat to sit, not to go out, pick the food up and go somewhere else.”

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, lifeguards said beachgoers were largely following the rules over the Memorial Day weekend. Some local beaches were more crowded than others. Hermosa Beach police Sgt. Jonathan Sibbald told KTLA that officers had to advise some beachgoers against drinking on Saturday and ask them to maintain spatial awareness. Overall, he said, people behaved fine.

Los Angeles County, the hotbed of the coronavirus in California, with more than 2,000 deaths, has been slower to expand the reopening of the economy than have other counties. Officials set a goal of reopening by July 4.

Los Angeles County public health officials announced on Saturday 1,032 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 41 deaths but also revealed encouraging signs of progress in slowing the virus’ spread.

The county has seen a 13% decrease in its latest seven-day average of deaths per day and a 16% decrease in its most recent three-day average of hospitalizations per day, according to a Department of Health dashboard that tracks metrics related to recovery.

In addition, the percentage of people who have tested positive in L.A. County has reached an all-time low of 8.5%, compared with 28% in New York City, said Barbara Ferrer, the county health director, on Saturday.


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