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Santa Cruz boardwalk reopens for a weekend, then promptly closes rides again as COVID surges

A roller coaster and other rides border the beach in Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, shown in May 2020, is mostly closed again amid a countywide increase in coronavirus cases.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

After opening for a single weekend, rides and most other attractions at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk have been closed amid a countywide increase in coronavirus cases.

Santa Cruz County on Tuesday reverted to the red tier of the state’s color-coded reopening system — indicating a substantial risk of infection — after spending two weeks in the more moderate orange tier.

“The number of active cases has doubled in recent weeks,” public health officials said, “with a weekend increase in case counts that appears related to Halloween.”

The boardwalk announced the closure of rides, mini-golf and indoor arcades, as well as its bowling alley and Neptune’s Kingdom entertainment center, on Wednesday. Boardwalk spokesman Kris Reyes said officials were disappointed but not surprised by the decision.

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“We anticipated the likelihood Santa Cruz County might move back and forth within tiers, and have prepared to adjust our operations accordingly,” he said, noting that the health and safety of guests and staff remains their top priority.

Santa Cruz’s economy is built around seasonal tourism and the UC Santa Cruz. Businesses are starting to reopen, but staying safe depends on how the county can manage an influx of visitors.

The state had released new guidelines in October allowing small theme parks to reopen outdoors only, with visitors restricted to county residents. The parks are required to offer a reservation system, and masks are mandatory.

The boardwalk — California’s oldest amusement park, built in 1907 — was the state’s first to reopen during the pandemic. Parks in other orange-tier counties are also eligible for reopening.

But Santa Cruz’s backslide is reflective of a larger, alarming trend across the state: 10 other counties moved into more restrictive tiers this week as a new surge of infections left California on the brink of 1 million coronavirus cases.

With California’s COVID-19 case count up, officials are concerned about what may come next: Hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators of coronavirus spread.

As of Thursday, the state had reported just over 995,600 cases, according to the Los Angeles Times’ tracker, including 4,697 new cases Wednesday. More than 18,000 people in California have died of COVID-19.

“We are entering an especially dangerous period of the pandemic,” Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said, “and we ask everyone to meet this challenge by taking measures to protect one another.”

Newel said many of the new cases were among young adults who might experience only mild symptoms.

“It’s important to remember,” she said, “that they can transmit the disease to others, with potentially severe consequences.”

Under state guidelines, counties in the red tier must close amusement parks and substantially reduce indoor operations at restaurants, places of worship and other businesses.

People on the beach boardwalk’s Facebook page reacted to news of the closures with both sadness and support.

“The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a California icon,” said Bay Area resident Paul Nakamoto, who added that he’d be “the first one in line” when it was safe to reopen.

“Such a bummer!” said Laura Hull of Santa Cruz. “We went last weekend and had such a great time.”

Reyes said that although rides and most attractions at the boardwalk were closed, the colonnade and main plaza remain open for the time being.

Guests with upcoming ride reservations will be automatically refunded, officials said.


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