Gov. Gavin Newsom Announces Temporary Closure of Orange County Beaches

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Huntington Beach, California (Inset: Gov. Gavin Newsom)

"The images we saw were disturbing," Newsom said in announcing the order as he praised Los Angeles and San Diego counties and officials there for adhering to the closures and not allowing large groups to gather.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a temporary order closing state and local beaches in Orange County in an effort prevent a repeat of last weekend that saw crowds in the thousands gathering along the coast in areas like Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.

The governor didn't mention beaches by name, but he did say "specific issues on some of those beaches have raised alarm bells" for those not practicing social and physical distancing. Newsom reiterated that the closure is temporary. "We gotta make sure we get this right, and not undo all that progress," he said in reference to flattening the curve in the state. "Let's move forward." 

The order follows a weekend when Orange County beaches were packed as the area experienced its first true heat wave of the year and one of the first since last summer. Images from the area made national headlines, and Newsom criticized beachgoers during his briefing Monday. 

"The conditions last week, the images we saw, were disturbing," Newsom said in announcing the order as he praised Los Angeles and San Diego counties and officials there for adhering to the closures and not allowing large groups to gather.

The governor on Thursday announced an additional 95 deaths in the state from COVID-19 illness in the past 24 hours, for a total of 1,887 thus far in the pandemic. The figures provide "another reminder this disease has not gone away" or that it just "needs a little sunlight; there's a sense of that spreading around." Those comments, he said, were in reference to reports that circulated over the past week — disinformation repeated by President Donald Trump — that the virus can be killed by sunlight, something that, while true, does not apply to the virus as it lives in the body.

"We can't be driven by ideology," Newsom said. "We have to be driven by the spread of this disease." 

Thursday's order, which was expected, lands with some resistance from local officials as well as residents who say that going to the beach should be a right and that there is no data yet to support why beaches should be closed. 

It also has been a roller coaster time for residents in keeping up with the back-and-forth between officials over what is open and what is closed. After images of the packed beaches went viral, Newsom fired back at beachgoers on Monday, only to be followed by the Newport Beach City Council that passed an order keeping beaches open. 

Earlier on Thursday, Newport Beach Police Department Chief Jon Lewis even released a statement saying that the images and news stories that followed last weekend's heat wave provided a distorted view of the scene over April 24-26.

"It was our personal observation, and that of our officers, that the overwhelming majority of Newport Beach residents and visitors were families or practicing social distancing. What we observed from land and by air was the vast majority of beach goers practicing social distancing. There were, in places, some clusters of people that were not social distancing," he said in a statement that was also shared on the city's official Facebook page accompanied by images of the beaches, pictures that do show a sharp contrast with what circulated previously. "Throughout the day, our police officers and lifeguards patrolled the entire beach area to educate and remind those individuals of the necessity of physical distancing."

In Huntington Beach, officials shared a similar message just days ago, reiterating that social distancing guidelines are promoted every hour by loud speaker. "Huntington Beach Police Department and Huntington Beach Fire’s Marine Safety Division are on the beach patrolling and educating visitors and have found the majority of people staying in their own unit, if not they are educated and have complied," read a statement on the city's Facebook page. "There are hourly social distancing reminders from the loud speaker on the pier, and we also have public works for any crowd related issues with barriers and signage that needs to be put into place if needed. Despite what’s being reported, the majority of our beach goers are complying to social distancing."

Then, after Newsom's press briefing on Thursday, Newport Beach shared another Facebook post statement, offering that the city "intends to honor the governor's directive to close Orange County beaches."