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Newsom chastises beachgoers, warning that defying order could delay reopening California

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday criticized Californians who defied the statewide stay-at-home order and flocked to beaches over the weekend, saying that ignoring restrictions could prolong the spread of the coronavirus in the state.

Newsom’s comments come after thousands of beachgoers descended on the coast in Orange and Ventura counties despite his pleas last week to avoid doing so during the warm weekend.

“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off,” Newsom said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento. “The only thing that will set us back is people stopping to practice physical distancing and appropriate social distancing. That’s the only thing that’s going to slow down our ability to reopen this economy.”

Southern California had its first big heat wave over the weekend, but L.A. County beaches are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Beaches in nearby counties were open, however. Here are a few scenes from the weekend.

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Newsom vowed to increase statewide enforcement of the stay-at-home order if necessary and, in a thinly veiled criticism of the cities and counties that saw crowded beaches, said, “We’ll have a little work to do to improve upon Saturday.”

“You didn’t see those images at L.A. beaches and San Diego beaches and [in] Northern California ... because we had strong guidelines that were not only adopted but were abided by,” Newsom said, “and we had local partners that supported those efforts.”

California law gives state health officials the authority to “quarantine, isolate, inspect, and disinfect persons, animals, houses, rooms, other property, places, cities, or localities, whenever in its judgment the action is necessary to protect or preserve the public health.” The law also allows health officials to “take possession or control of the body of any living person, or the corpse of any deceased person” to prevent the spread of a contagious disease. State health officials can require the sheriff of each county to enforce orders.

Amid mounting pressure from some local officials to reopen the state, Newsom said he expected to announce modifications to the stay-at-home order within a matter of weeks.

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Newsom on Monday said he would begin “digital roundtables” with workers, small-businesses owners and other employers in some of the most affected industries about the impacts of COVID-19 and plans to emerge from the crisis.

“The hope and expectation,” Newsom said, “is that we’ll be in a position in a number of weeks to make meaningful modifications, but again the data will guide that, the indicators will guide that.”

Newsom’s comments came after several governors across the country said they planned to ease stay-at-home orders in the days and weeks ahead.

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Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a similar phased plan to reopen his state on May 15, initially upstate, which has been less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than Greater New York City. Govs. Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat, and Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, issued similar pronouncements but said the dates for reopening would depend on daily assessments of the spread of the virus in their states.

Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday announced that retail businesses and some services would begin to reopen on May 12, with requirements for workers to wear face masks and other safeguards.

“We’ve gotten this far — but we have a ways to go. These are the first steps. I know there are other things we all want to do — get a haircut, go to restaurants — but we have to see how we are doing with #COVID19 first,” DeWine tweeted.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, mayors and other elected officials from six counties in California’s northern interior urged the governor to allow the region to ease restrictions and start the process of reopening their economy. They said that in that area the spread of the coronavirus had subsided, with only one person with the virus hospitalized in an intensive care unit as of Monday.

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“We believe that the local public health data, in addition to our area’s ability to continue monitoring cases, should allow our counties to soon begin a science-based, thoughtful reopening of our economy, consistent with national guidelines, which would allow our residents to get back to work,” the letter to Newsom stated.

The county officials were just the latest in local government to request Newsom’s permission to phase out the stay-at-home order, with many expressing fear that the restrictions would decimate businesses and flatten local economies.

In years past, the county and city have struggled to effectively communicate with the public during emergencies. This time, they’re focusing on a consistent message.

Last week, San Luis Obispo County officials said they had bent the coronavirus curve and were beginning to craft a second phase that would allow some businesses to reopen. Days earlier, Ventura County officials modified a stay-at-home order to permit some businesses to reopen and some gatherings to take place.

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On Monday, public health officials from six San Francisco Bay Area counties announced plans to keep shelter-in-place orders through the end of May but to ease some restrictions. The officials, however, did not say what kinds of restrictions would be eased.

State lawmakers are also hearing from constituents who want to start thinking differently about the crisis and how some sort of economic reboot will begin.

During a hearing on Monday about the economy, Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) urged the Newsom administration to abandon the terminology of “essential” versus “nonessential” businesses.

“If you are a small-business owner, you probably consider your business essential,” Wood said. “It’s essential to your family, it’s essential to the people you employ, and it’s essential to your community in many ways.”

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Wood said it was time for state officials to begin looking more closely at which businesses could reopen, suggesting there would be little risk in allowing small accounting firms or attorney’s offices to resume work.

“I have to feel like there’s a lot of business owners that could be operating safely,” he said, “given the opportunity to do so.”

While promising to review all requests by local governments to modify the order, Newsom has been hesitant to pin any state action to a specific date, saying reports on the spread of the virus, along with hospitalizations and deaths, would “drive our decision-making.”

Last week, Newsom pleaded with Californians to continue to heed orders to stay home and avoid large crowds. Despite his efforts, thousands of people converged on Southern California beaches on Saturday and Sunday.

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Officials in Newport Beach became so alarmed that on Tuesday the City Council will consider closing the beaches for three weekends in May or blocking roads leading to popular beach spots on the Balboa Peninsula and Corona del Mar.

Los Angeles County kept its beaches closed over the weekend, though they were open in Orange and Ventura counties.

Along with being pressured by local officials, Newsom is being taken to court over his stay-at-home order. Two Sacramento County residents on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging Newsom’s statewide order.

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The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Ron Givens of the Sacramento Gun Club and Christine “Chris” Bish, a real estate agent and a Republican candidate for Congress running against Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), alleges that the California Highway Patrol unconstitutionally denied their requests for permits to hold a protest outside the state Capitol. Givens wants to protest the state’s failure to process background checks for people buying firearms, and Bish hopes to protest the stay-at-home order, according to the lawsuit.

“At a time when Californians are rightfully questioning the duration and extent of the stay-at-home orders, which are unevenly enforced and which have resulted in other constitutional challenges, Gov. Newsom has reacted to citizen protests not by addressing widespread concern, but simply by shutting down protest at the Capitol altogether, making no reasonable accommodations for this fundamental function in a free society,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, one of the attorneys handling the case.

The Newsom administration previously announced the six key goals to meet before the governor’s stay-at-home mandate is altered, including the ability to closely monitor and track potential cases, prevent infection of high-risk people, increase surge capacity at hospitals, develop therapeutics, and ensure physical distance at schools, businesses and child-care facilities.

Earlier this month, Newsom and his counterparts in Washington and Oregon announced “a regional pact to recovery” from the coronavirus crisis and agreed to work together to develop a plan to lift restrictions on daily life and reopen economies along the West Coast. Nevada and Colorado on Monday announced they would be joining the regional pact.

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Times staff writer John Myers contributed to this report.


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