California Gov. Gavin Newsom Fires Back at Beachgoers: "The Virus Doesn't Take Weekends Off"

APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images

After the state's packed beaches made national headlines, the governor said the behavior of residents who don't adhere to isolation orders could set back significant progress: "We cannot see the images like we saw."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom saw the images that circulated widely over the weekend showing off massive crowds at Southern California beaches, and he slammed those in defiance as showing what "not to do" amid statewide stay-at-home orders. 

"Those images are an example of what not to see," he said, kicking off his Monday press briefing in Sacramento, where he has been providing daily updates on the state's COVID-19 relief efforts. "The virus doesn't take the weekends off. This virus doesn't go home because it's a beautiful sunny day on our coasts."

Newsom specifically called out the coastline communities of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach that saw thousands of beachgoers hit the sand on the first heatwave of the season carrying temperatures 90 degrees and above. Officials had been anticipating such a surge and had closed parking lots and meters in some of those areas to help curb beach activity. Los Angeles County, which encompasses beach cities like Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu, did not see any meaningful gatherings of people, but the county has been more strict than areas like Orange County and Ventura, the latter of which relaxed strict isolation orders and opened up many parks and beaches. 

Newsom said the state is just weeks — "not months" — from meaningful modifications to closure orders, but that's only if residents continue to follow specific social distancing guidelines. "The only thing that can stop that is more images like we saw over the weekend," he said, adding that it will be a number of months before herd immunity and a vaccine will allow for life to continue as normal, including regular beach activities. "Until then, we have to manage risks and manage and augment our behavior. I cannot impress upon you more — we cannot see the images like we saw." 

The governor praised those in L.A., San Diego and beaches further north as being mostly empty. "We had strong guidelines that were not only adopted but abided by, but we had local partners who supported those. Unfortunately, there were those exceptions," he said.

Newsom said officials have since been in discussions with the Newport Beach City Council and the Orange County Board of Supervisors who acted to address the crowds. The governor was asked if there were any plans to work with local police departments on strict enforcement orders, such as ticketing or arrests, should the trend continue as high temperatures persist. He said no, adding that there were no citations or arrests and only a few warnings issued all throughout the state over the weekend. "I don't want to be punitive," said Newsom.

He also provided an update on the state's latest COVID-19 cases, adding another 45 fatalities for a total of 1,721 deaths to date. There are 43,464 confirmed positive cases of COVID19, with 3,372 of those patients currently being treated in hospitals. Newsom promised a more significant update on Tuesday on his detailed six-point plan for relaxing isolation orders and opening up the state economy with a specific focus on businesses, and he also teased the introduction of digital conversations with small business owners, workers and industry leaders about impact and efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. 

After the statewide update, L.A. County officials held their daily briefing from Board of Supervisors headquarters where Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer reported another 29 deaths in the county, 25 of whom were over the age of 65 and more than half suffered from underlying health conditions. The area now has close to half of the state’s 43,464 confirmed cases with 20,417.

Ferrer put focus on race and ethnicity by announcing that her team has received data for 865 of the county’s total 942 deaths. Thirty-seven percent identified as Latinx; 28 percent White; 18 percent Asian; 14 percent African American; one percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and one percent identified as another race. She said African American populations continue to be most affected by the virus, accounting for higher rates of death based on the fact they account for only nine percent of the county’s population.

High levels of poverty continue to have the highest rate of death per samplings of 100,000 people for COVID-19 when compared to groups with more income. “This data is deeply disturbing and speaks to the need for immediate action,” Ferrer said, specifying increased testing, better access to health care and culturally appropriate information about the virus and its impact.

She provided an update on health care workers, detailing that those on the front line account for 1,968 of positive cases, up 527 from the previous week. The rise is directly associated with the increased testing administered inside the county's nursing and skilled nursing facilities, which continue to see outbreaks. Nurses account for 43 percent of positive cases, which are spread out among physicians, care givers, receptionists, first responders and administrative roles. Since the first death of a health care workers on March 28, there have been 10 more with the last person dying on April 21. 

"To all the families, we very much mourning with you," she said. "Your loved ones dedicated their lives to helping others. To health care workers across L.A. County, we owe you all our deepest appreciation. You are our heroes." 

Ferrer also touched on the packed beaches, but she did so by expressing her gratitude that the Westside did not experience the same situation as the South Bay cities. She closed by encouraging residents to stay the course on social distancing and isolation until measures can be relaxed based on data and science. "This weekend, it felt like summer arrived. We all wish this were normal times but these are extraordinary times and we need to continue to do our part."