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O.C. clears the way for golf courses to open amid coronavirus pandemic

Shorecliffs Golf Course in San Clemente
Golfers putt on the seventh hole green of the Shorecliffs Golf Course in San Clemente on March 31, 2020.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County leaders agreed Tuesday to allow public and private golf courses to reopen amid a push from residents to begin easing restrictions and closures that have been in place because of the coronavirus.

While the county hadn’t specifically included golf courses in its list of nonessential businesses during the pandemic, about 90% of them had curtailed operations in accordance with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, officials said.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to allow golf courses to reopen or, in some cases, stay open with certain recommendations for social distancing and cleanliness, including sanitizing golf carts after each use and staggering tee times for players. Restaurants and shops at the golf courses will remain closed.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett made the proposal after she said she spent about 10 hours on the phone over the weekend with golfers and golf course operators across the county who longed to get players out on the green again.

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“Time is of the essence,” Bartlett told her colleagues. “We have people that are getting totally stir crazy at home.”

Riverside County this week issued a revised public health order permitting golf courses across the county to reopen with conditions.

The move comes amid increasing pressure from the public to ease social distancing mandates. Over the last few days, there have been protests in San Diego, Huntington Beach, San Clemente and Newport Beach from people who would like to see the measures relaxed or eliminated.

“I think this is the right direction to go,” Supervisor Don Wagner said of the golf course proposal. “We are talking about the light at the end of the tunnel and finding ways to reopen the county.”

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Health experts have said that early social distancing in California helped the state avoid the high death counts of New York and that lifting them too early could cause the coronavirus to spread. Newsom said Monday that he understood the frustrations and anxieties being expressed by the protesters, but he cautioned that parts of the world that have relaxed coronavirus restrictions prematurely have been quickly hit with a second wave of the virus.

“If we’re ultimately going to come back economically, the worst mistake we can make is making a precipitous decision based on politics and frustration that puts people’s lives at risk and ultimately sets back the cause of economic growth and economic recovery,” Newsom said.

A golfer wears a protective mask while driving the golf cart
A golfer wearing a protective mask drives to the next hole in a cart while playing the Shorecliffs Golf Course in San Clemente on March 31, 2020.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Leaders in Orange County, in line with officials across California, have expressed a desire to begin taking initial steps to reopen their communities and reinvigorate local economies.

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Wagner and Chairwoman Michelle Steel created an ad hoc committee this month consisting of a physician and nine business leaders who will advise the county on how to assist businesses in recovering from the economic fallout created by the pandemic.

County public health officials cautioned that while state orders will eventually be loosened, Orange County will have a local order maintaining certain restrictions, probably for many months.

“We’re going to alter our normal,” Public Health Officer Nichole Quick said. “The last thing we want to do is open the flood gates and watch our case count start to go up again uncontrolled.”

On Tuesday, the county reported an additional 29 coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases to 1,691. So far, the county has seen 33 coronavirus-related deaths.

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The board on Tuesday also voted to strengthen the county’s earlier recommendation on face coverings for essential employees. The new directive mandates face coverings, such as bandannas or pieces of cloth, for employees working in grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, restaurants, convenience stores and other essential retail outlets.

The county had previously suggested that employees and the public wear coverings over their noses and mouths while in public, but stopped short of a mandate.

Wagner criticized the move, questioning whether the board was being consistent in its messaging to the public.

“I feel like we’re getting whipsawed here,” he said. “We have a committee discussing opening up [the county] and lifting restrictions. Now we say ‘OK, fine, by the way, let’s take a look at what we did last week and clamp down on restrictions.’”


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