Can California enjoy Memorial Day without spreading coronavirus? It will be a big test

A Seal Beach lifeguard politely reminds beachgoers to keep in motion while enjoying a day at Seal Beach on Thursday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The Memorial Day weekend is shaping up to be a major test for California amid eased coronavirus restrictions, as officials warn social distancing is still needed to prevent new outbreaks.

Many parks, beaches and trails will be open, but officials are urging people to keep their distance and not overcrowd these outdoor spaces.

In many counties, restaurants, retailers and even shopping malls will be open, though not in hard-hit areas like Los Angeles County and many parts of the Bay Area.

“The virus is still out there waiting for us to let our guard down,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis warned Thursday.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer took a similarly cautious tone.


“Many of our beautiful outdoor spaces are open and we can enjoy them as we practice physical distancing and wear our cloth face coverings when we’re around other people,” Ferrer said. “The virus hasn’t changed. It’s still relatively easy to become infected, particularly if you’re not taking precautions.”

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday on Twitter: “We need you to keep taking these actions to remain healthy and safe, and protect those around us. 1. Stay home as much as possible. 2. Continue practicing physical distancing. 3. Wash your hands often for 20 seconds. 4. Wear a face covering when you go out and are around others.”

With the lure of a three-day holiday weekend, some destinations are making more room for Memorial Day revelers, while others are clamping down.

Unlike some trails that were shuttered under Ventura County orders, the popular Santa Paula Canyon and Punch Bowls Trail in Ojai Valley never closed. But in recent weeks, crowds have been gathering in droves, filling the parking lots and leaving behind trash, said Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen.

“People have been drawn to that particular trail over the past few weeks,” said Madsen, noting that he expects the forest will temporarily close the seven-mile trail Saturday for up to two weeks.

In the Santa Monica Mountains, park rangers are encouraging visitors to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing on newly reopened trails.

But in the San Bernardino National Forest, officials will close a 2.5-mile stretch in Deep Creek in the Lake Arrowhead area for roughly a year to deal with chronic overcrowding. The creek’s swimming holes, especially at Aztec Falls, have drawn crowds in past years that have created growing traffic and parking issues on the narrow roads.

While coastal temperatures linger in the mid-70s, the mercury will rise significantly beginning Monday in the valleys and Inland Empire.

Elsewhere in the state, officials are further encouraging social distancing.

Four San Francisco parks are being outfitted with painted circles to remind people to stay away from each other when they are outside during the coronavirus outbreak.

Ten-foot white circles, each eight feet apart, were painted on the grass of Mission Dolores Park on Wednesday, and Little Marina Green Picnic Area and Washington Square on Thursday. Crews were completing Jackson Playground on Friday.

The pilot program is similar to an effort implemented in Domino Park in Brooklyn, said Tamara Barak Aparton, spokeswoman for San Francisco Recreation and Parks.

“We wanted to have them in place before Memorial Day weekend in four different parts of the city to see how it went,” she said. “It’s going to be warm this weekend and we knew people would be out, so we thought it would be a good time to get feedback on whether this helps.”

Memorial Day will be very different in 2020. Instead of large gatherings with friends and family, try some of these alternatives.

More than 40 of California’s 58 counties have now been approved to expand retail operations as their virus conditions improved, with more are expected to reopen their economies in the coming days.

But officials expect the progress to be slower in Los Angeles County, which accounts for nearly 60% of the state’s total deaths and almost half of the nearly 90,000 confirmed infections. The county’s death toll rose Thursday to 2,016, with more than 42,000 confirmed cases.

Most counties have received approval to progress more quickly through Phase 2 of the state’s reopening road map — meaning they can open restaurant dining rooms and more retail businesses for in-store shopping.

The list of counties that can ramp up their reopening efforts now includes San Diego — the state’s second-most populous — Kern, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers said he was “so happy for our county, businesses and employees,” adding that there’s still “a long way to go, but this is a major milestone.”

“COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on both community health and our economy,” he said. “We want businesses to be able to reopen, and we believe they can and will do so safely.”

An 18-plane formation of warbirds will fly over the Inland Empire and Orange and L.A. counties on Memorial Day, honoring veterans and medical workers.

Coastal access in Orange County will be easier over the Memorial Day weekend, as several coastal cities expanded their beach hours and plan to open more parking lots connected to the shoreline.

Seal Beach officials this week authorized the city to move into Phase 2 and 3 of its “beach in motion” plans, which expand hours for access but continue to prohibit beachgoers from lounging on the sand. Active use such as walking, jogging, surfing or swimming is allowed and is in line with rules at other Southern California beaches.

Following a six-week closure at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Seal Beach took a more cautious approach in reopening its coastline earlier this month than other beach cities.

A few miles south, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are also allowing beach access on weekends, ahead of the Memorial Day holiday. Newport is now open 6 a.m.-10 p.m., while Huntington Beach opens an hour earlier.

Laguna Beach, however, is maintaining stricter hours on Saturdays and Sundays, with its coastline closing at noon each day.

While Los Angeles County beaches also have reopened for active use, only some parking lots are open. Beach parking lots at Dockweiler State Beach, Will Rogers State Beach, Zuma Beach and Surfrider Beach will be open at partial capacity. Santa Monica lots are closed, as are most public beach lots in coastal communities. Beach bathrooms remain open.

Public health officials continue to caution residents to avoid large gatherings and outdoor crowds during the Memorial Day weekend.