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New coronavirus rules coming before July 4 weekend

To curb the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said the state plans to announce tougher enforcement of health rules on Wednesday as the Fourth of July weekend approaches.

He did not specify what those new rules might look like, however.

“Tomorrow we will be making some additional announcements on efforts to use that dimmer switch we’ve referred to and begin to toggle back on our stay-at-home order and tighten things up,” Newsom said at a news conference in Pittsburg. “Our framework is this: If you are not going to stay at home, and you are not going to wear masks in public, we have to enforce. And we will, and we will be making announcements on enforcement tomorrow.”

On Monday, fearing large crowds at the coast over the holiday weekend, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced beaches in that county would be closed then.

Asked specifically if he was going to close beaches more widely in other parts of California over Independence Day,  Newsom deferred.

“Obviously we are looking at issues of transmission and community spread throughout sectors in our economy, not the least of which are issues and concerns around activities coming up this weekend,” he said.

Newsom specifically mentioned that indoor family gatherings, like cook-outs and birthday parties, have been a major, and growing source of transmission of the coronavirus. He said the public needs to be more vigilant wearing face masks and social distancing.

“They may walk into that barbecue with masks on, they may put the cooler down and immediately the mask comes off,” Newsom said of people at a family get together. “… And all of a sudden here comes Uncle Bob, two hours late. He gives everyone a hug, and they’re all like, ‘Hey, Uncle Bob, where’s the mask?’ And Uncle Bob says ‘I don’t believe in that,’ and the whole thing starts to take shape.”

California has seen a 43% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks as state and local officials have allowed restaurants, hotels, bars, gyms and other businesses to reopen. The pandemic remains far worse in Southern California than Northern California. Nearly 80% of the state’s 6,012 deaths through Tuesday have occurred in five Southern California counties — Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Newsom said the state budget approved over the past week allows state officials to withhold up to $2.5 billion in funding from counties that refuse to follow health guidelines.

Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the California Coastal Commission, said she is unaware of any pending beach closures beyond what already has been announced in Los Angeles County.

If the Newsom administration decides to limit beach access in other counties, that could take the form of closing parking lots in some areas, or closing beaches altogether, although that approach has proven difficult to enforce.

Santa Cruz County health officials lifted beach closure rules last Thursday, becoming the last of California’s 15 counties to end regular beach closures. Beaches had been closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Santa Cruz County, although people were still allowed to cross the sand to get to the water, to surf, swim or boat at any time.

Although locals and tourists complied at first, so many people eventually ignored the rules that they became impossible to enforce, said Jason Hoppin, a Santa Cruz County spokesman.

Hoppin said he is unaware of any plans to close any beaches in Santa Cruz County this weekend.

He said the sheriff’s department had assigned up to eight deputies to write tickets on the beach for violators when closures were in effect, and state parks rangers, along with police from local cities like Capitola were also trying to enforce the rules. But Santa Cruz has more than 30 miles of public beaches.

“It’s hard,” he said. “There are a number of beaches, each one has a number of access points. It was clear there just wasn’t a lot of compliance. The county sheriff put a number of resources. They would do sweeps, and people would just fill in behind them.”

Hoppin noted that no cases of COVID-19 have been traced to people on the beaches in Santa Cruz County. Most cases have been traced to indoor settings, particularly at family gatherings, he said.

“We just do not have scientific justification for closing beaches only,” he  said. “Our closure was always about  encouraging compliance with the stay-at-home order.”

In recent weeks, nearly all of California’s 280 state parks, including state beaches from the Oregon border to San Diego, have reopened, some with limited parking.

Gloria Sandoval, deputy director of California’s state parks department, said Tuesday they remain open. But people should check online at parks.ca.gov before heading to any state beach or park, she noted.

“COVID still poses a public health risk,” Sandoval said. “It’s a dynamic and fluid situation. We are advising the public to plan ahead, go to our website, find out if there is parking available and find out about the guidelines.”

Beaches that are part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, including Stinson and Muir beaches in Marin County and Ocean Beach in San Francisco County, remain open.

“We’ve been working in concert with San Francisco and Marin counties to mirror their public health recommendations,” said Charles Strickfaden, a national parks spokesman. “At this time we don’t have any plans to change those recommendations on Golden Gate National Recreation Area beaches in San Francisco or Marin for July 4th. As always fireworks are prohibited.”

 


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