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Laguna Beach to close city beaches on Fourth of July as coronavirus cases climb

Beachgoers play
Beachgoers play in the shore break near their umbrellas on a warm afternoon at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach is closing its beaches for the Fourth of July.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously to close its beaches on Saturday, but it also gave direction to City Manager John Pietig to have the discretion to close city beaches on Friday and Sunday if it is determined necessary to protect public health. The city also cancelled this year’s annual fireworks show in May in response to concerns about COVID-19.

“I think that there are two extremes,” Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said in early discussions on the subject of potential beach closures, adding that he saw people respecting social distancing on Main Beach on Tuesday, but that he also saw what the beach looked like during last year’s Fourth of July.

“This is not the restaurants and bars. This is just the beach. And particularly on the Fourth of July, when there were fireworks, Heisler Park, Main Beach — it looked like sardines in a can,” Dicterow said. “There was no space between people. Those are the two extremes. My concern is that even without fireworks, there just may be a huge density of people on the beaches.”

Discussion Tuesday focused on whether or not to close the beaches; if hours should be limited; limiting activity to active use only; or if beaches should close only if state and local authorities mandate the closure of beaches.

Two lifeguards have tested positive, a third is showing symptoms and more than 20 are in quarantined, stretching staffing thin. Newport’s beaches will be shut down from 10 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday. Huntington Beach will also close its parking and pier in additions to beaches.

Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said that the department has been seeing voluntary compliance with current guidelines since the beaches reopened but said that there is a possibility for the beaches to crowd because of the holiday.

A group of beachgoers play tug of war with a piece of kelp at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Tuesday.
A group of beachgoers play tug of war with a piece of kelp at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Police Chief Laura Farinella said that the majority of complaints have been coming from indoor seating in restaurants.

“We’ve had some big weekends. We’ve had a heat wave. We’ve had some ability to monitor the situation and we feel, that as of now, the public is complying,” Snow said, but added that even if the city closes its beaches that the county may not close its beaches. City staff said in a presentation that beaches in south Laguna Beach, if the city closes its beaches, could be inundated with visitors.

Laguna Beach opts to close city beaches, Huntington Beach to keep them open, as Newport Beach officials wait to decide if they will follow Los Angeles County’s lead in shutting down for the Fourth of July weekend because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

Speakers on Tuesday encouraged the closures of the beaches, with some speakers encouraging that the city instead close indoor dining and bars. Another speaker said that the city should close all or nothing to disperse the crowd.

As of Wednesday afternoon, county authorities have not closed beaches.

Beachgoers walk across the sand looking for a spot to post their chairs while another reads a book.
Beachgoers walk across the sand looking for a spot to post their chairs while another reads a book on a warm afternoon at Laguna’s Main Beach on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Orange County reported 570 new cases and five new deaths Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 14,413 and deaths related to COVID-19 to 345, respectively. The number of cases involving skilled nursing facility residents is 1,189 while inmates are at 401.

An additional 7,746 tests were reported, bringing the total to 241,027. Testing positivity Wednesday was at 10.4% and the change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients is 9%. Hospitals reported 192 cases are in intensive care units out of a total 542 current hospital patients.

Here are the latest cumulative case counts and deaths for select cities:

  • Santa Ana: 2,954 cases; 92 deaths
  • Anaheim: 2,713 cases; 85 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 671 cases; 38 deaths
  • Irvine: 419 cases; 5 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 361 cases; 2 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 309 cases; 2 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 123 cases; 6 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 64 cases; 0 deaths

All city beaches and related access points will be closed until 5 a.m. Sunday. Signage will be placed at beaches and entry points and police will be increasing monitoring for enforcement of the closures.

“The decision to close city beaches on July 4 was not taken lightly by the City Council,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Ultimately, the safety of our community and the public is our number one priority. On balance, we decided that taking a one-day timeout at the beach to reduce the crowds in the city made sense in the face of the increasing number of confirmed cases in the county and region.”

“It is clear that we all need to do more to stop the spread of the virus and I urge everyone to comply with the governor’s order to wear masks and maintain physical distance,” Whalen added.

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