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Despite region’s first big heat wave, most Los Angeles County residents avoid beach on Saturday

With Southern California in the midst of the year’s first big heat wave, Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home order faced a major test Saturday as all 72 miles of the region’s coast remained closed.

But for the most part, people appeared to heed the city’s warnings. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore tweeted aerial images of empty beaches on Saturday.

“My compliments to our community for staying away from the beaches in LA,” he wrote. “From Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, to Dockweiler - All Clear!!”

But hundreds of people did flock to beaches in neighboring Ventura and Orange counties, where stretches of the coastline were opened this week. No major incidents were reported and most people appeared to practice social distancing.

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“After being cooped up, we understand people want to enjoy the outside,” said Ventura Police Cmdr. Tom Higgins.

Temperatures ranged from the mid-70s along the coast to the low-90s in the valleys and inland areas on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Downtown L.A. hit 86 degrees, while Van Nuys saw the mercury reach 92 and Woodland Hills 91.

Things are expected to cool off Saturday night, but temperatures will remain above normal, in the 80s, for the next seven days, according to the weather service.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, has said repeatedly that the beaches must remain closed to prevent an overflow of visitors who might be carrying the coronavirus. She has asked L.A. residents not to crowd beaches in neighboring Ventura and Orange counties.

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“We have high rates of illness and a lot of people in our county who are dying. We know it’s best right now for us Angelenos to stay home, or stay outside [in] your own yard or your own neighborhood,” Ferrer told the media Wednesday. To do otherwise, she said, would increase the risk of bringing the infection to L.A. “And we absolutely don’t need that.”

Ferrer on Saturday renewed her call for people to stay home.

“Continue to do your part and save lives,” she said in a statement. “This is how we get to the other side of the outbreak and begin our recovery.”

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That came as L.A. County reported 48 new deaths and 607 additional cases of COVID-19. Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported 26 new cases, bringing the county total to 895 deaths and more than 19,100 cases.

Of the people who died, 37 were older than 65 and nine were ages 41-65. Thirty-eight had underlying health conditions.

“This past week in L.A. County, we doubled the number of deaths from COVID-19 and diagnosed more than 7,000 new cases,” Ferrer said in a statement. “Because we are still seeing a significant increase in new cases and deaths, we ask that you continue to stay home as much as possible.”

Most Ventura and Orange County beaches are open, but officials in both counties warned visitors to either stay away or to abide by social distancing practices.

The city of Ventura eased a hard closure on parks and beaches this week in an effort to help residents stay mentally and physically healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Under an amended ordinance, residents can now access the city’s beaches, promenade and parks as long as they keep their distance from one another and remain active. People can walk back and forth on the sand but are not allowed to sit down or stand against the railing to fish, for example.

The city’s ordinance includes provisions that give police authority to indefinitely close off an area if visitors ignore the rules. For example, if the promenade becomes overcrowded and residents ignore physical distancing guidelines, police can shut down the area for 24 hours.

Earlier this week, Ventura County reported 476 total coronavirus cases and 16 deaths.

On Saturday, the opening of area’s beaches brought out an unseasonably large crowd, in the hundreds, said Higgins said.

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Most people, drawn by comfortable temperatures that hovered in the mid-70s under pale-blue skies, stuck to the bike and running paths just above the sand.

But with restrictions. Parking lots, playgrounds, restrooms and restaurants all remain closed, as does the Ventura pier, which separates city and state beaches that are operating under slightly different rules.

“We’re coordinating so they’re consistent,” Higgins said.

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The rules forbid beachgoers from sitting or laying on the sand, but that wasn’t being strictly enforced Saturday. A Ventura police sergeant in dark-blue shorts walked along the turquoise water politely asking people with children to take their umbrellas down but allowing them to sunbathe on the sand.

“Technically you’re not supposed to sit down. But they’re with kids. I’m not going to ask some 50-year-old parents to run around with kids all day,” the sergeant said.

The lack of shade, he added, will encourage them to move on.

About an hour later, a police cruiser pulled up to the same stretch of beach, and the officer inside used his speaker to remind beachgoers of the rules.

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The goal, Higgins said, was to apply common sense and to seek cooperation rather than issuing citations.

“We’re in a mode of educating right now,” he said.

Many Orange County beaches are also open, but officials left in place parking restrictions that will reduce access. Some cities, including Laguna Beach and Seal Beach, have closed their beaches.

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Popular Newport Beach surfing destination the Wedge remains closed, but people still flocked to the beach, which remains open, on Friday.

“We’re kind of tired of being in our houses,” said Brett Polley, 20, of Irvine. “We’ve been keeping up with the news lately … and we really believe that this heat wave will drop people out, weaken the virus at least.”

Heather Rangel, press information officer for the Newport Beach Police Department, said Saturday there had been no arrests or citations related to the stay-at-home orders, despite an uptick in beachgoers.

“The beaches are crowded and look like a summer day in Newport Beach,” she said in an email.

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Huntington Beach also elected to keep its coastline is open, though the pier, beach parking lot and some metered parking remain closed.

Angie Bennett, spokeswoman for the Huntington Beach Police Department, said Saturday that the city’s beaches appeared somewhat busy, but there were no significant incidents, and no one was cited for violating social distancing guidelines.

“What the patrol officers are seeing is that people are staying within their own groups and appropriate distances apart,” she said. “It’s been a nice, warm day, and it sounds like people are complying and doing what we are asking of them.”

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On Friday, as her friends prepared to surf at 11th Street, Natalie Peart said she felt safe visiting the beach.

“We’re in California; we’re the most chill people,” said Peart, 23. “Everyone’s social. Nobody wants to give that up, you know?”

One county official opposed keeping the beaches open, noting that the region has been inundated with people from L.A. and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire.

“When you take a look at the folks that are coming down, they’re not only not adhering to safer-at-home policies in their own communities, they’re not even staying in their own counties. Especially with the warm weather, I think it’s going to be problematic,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said this week.

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Orange County health officials on Saturday announced 124 new COVID-19 cases, the highest one-day increase recorded by the county since the start of the pandemic. Health officials also reported two additional deaths, bringing the county totals to 1,969 cases and 38 deaths.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Orange County hospitals increased to 159, with 70 in intensive care units.

Stay-at-home orders issued by the state and local counties have led to some protests in San Diego, Huntington Beach, San Clemente, Sacramento and Newport Beach.

Most recently, a handful of protesters could be seen demonstrating in downtown Riverside on Saturday morning.

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Still, poll results released Friday indicate that the majority of Californians support the directive. Among those polled, 75% want the stay-at-home order to continue as long as it’s needed, according to a California Health Care Foundation/Ipsos survey. Only 11% wanted to stop the order, while 13% had no opinion.

Statewide, California has recorded more than 42,000 cases of the coronavirus, and more than 1,600 people have died.

Wigglesworth and Vega are Times staff writers. Szabo writes for Times Community News.


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