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Newport will close beaches on Fourth of July after lifeguard coronavirus infections; Huntington follows suit

A Newport Beach lifeguard keeps an eye on beachgoers near the Newport Pier on Wednesday.
A Newport Beach lifeguard keeps an eye on beachgoers near the Newport Pier on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach is putting its beaches under hard closure on the Fourth of July after two lifeguards have tested positive for COVID-19.

And with such a large neighbor shutting down, Huntington Beach will follow suit.

Newport Fire Chief Jeff Boyles said his lifeguard division has adequate staffing to absorb the lifeguards who are out of commission, but the remaining guards would be “stretched pretty thin.” Newport’s beaches will be shut down from 10 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday.

Twenty-three of the lifeguards’ colleagues are in quarantine. One of them is showing symptoms of COVID-19 and hasn’t been tested yet.

“I cannot in good conscience add more onto our lifeguards,” Mayor Will O’Neill said at an emergency City Council meeting Wednesday approving the closure. “We just can’t responsibly ask our lifeguards to do more with less. We just can’t.”

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.

The closure adds Newport to Los Angeles County, Ventura County and the cities of Laguna Beach and Seal Beach in locking down beaches for the weekend in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. County-controlled beaches will also close on Saturday. The state has already closed its beach parking lots.

Ricardo Morales, left, and his son, Marcos, play in the frothy shore break at Corona del Mar State Beach on Tuesday.
Ricardo Morales, left, and his son, Marcos, play in the frothy shore break at Corona del Mar State Beach on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport had earlier planned to go ahead with full access for the traditionally peak weekend, expecting an influx beyond even the typical Fourth of July crush as displaced L.A. beachgoers look for the next-closest sand and surf. They expected to have about 60 staffers on duty, with the flexibility to call in reinforcements if the turnout demanded it.

In addition, weekend swells are expected at 5 to 7 feet and temperatures are forecast in the mid- to high 70s on the water and into the high 80s inland.

The sidelined guards are among Newport’s 95 seasonal lifeguards, bringing down about a quarter of this major component of the city’s marine safety division. The division also counts 15 year-round senior lifeguards and more than 50 reservists.

Wednesday’s order applies to 19 counties where virus infections and hospitalizations have surged. In Orange County, 570 new infections and 542 hospitalizations were reported.

If more of the quarantined lifeguards get sick over the next few days, even more on the force could be isolated and create “pretty severe drawdown levels,” Boyles said. That’s because many seasonal guards are close away from work, playing sports or rooming together, he said. Some are siblings.

A few residents urged the council to leave the beach open, arguing to allow that liberty on Independence Day. They had an ally in Councilman Kevin Muldoon, a well-established proponent of reopening the cuffed economy who voted against a closure.

“In Newport Beach, a closure would be hard to enforce, and for good reason,” he said. “People are not meant to be controlled by the government.”

He was the only opposing vote.

That wasn’t the case in late April, when the council voted against closing the beaches days before the bustling weekend that alarmed Gov. Gavin Newsom enough to shut down all Orange County beaches for several days. Local cities bristled, with Newport backing up Huntington Beach’s resulting, but unsuccessful, lawsuit against the state.

However, this is a local decision based on local circumstances, O’Neill said.

Resident Portia Weiss supported the closure, saying it was about life.

“Liberty and pursuit of happiness are not even part of the equation if there isn’t life,” she said.

As COVID-19 numbers swell and Fourth of July approaches, L.A., Ventura, Santa Barbara county curtail beach activities while most parks, trails stay open

Newport also closed its boardwalk, piers and most of the parking for the holiday, leaving some spaces to support the waterfront businesses.

Beachgoers and dogs enjoy the weather at Huntington Dog Beach in Huntington Beach on Tuesday.
Beachgoers and dogs enjoy the weather at Huntington Dog Beach in Huntington Beach on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Like Newport, Huntington will also close its parking and pier in addition to its beaches — City, Sunset and Harbor.

“The potential, if we’re the only beach open, to be inundated certainly exists,” City Manager Oliver Chi said at a quickly called council meeting held a few hours after Newport’s. “We don’t want that situation.”

Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize said she has received numerous constituent emails wanting the beaches closed for the weekend, a shift in tone from about a month ago.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously to close the beach on July 4, but to also give the city manager the discretion to close on July 3 and 5.

She referenced a time when curtains separated smoking and nonsmoking sections on airplanes, “and they closed the curtain like that was really going to keep it away.”

“I kind of think we do that in Orange County,” she said. “L.A. is right next door. How is the wind blowing, for goodness sakes?”

Councilman Mike Posey moved to only close on Saturday to avoid uneven impacts on neighbors only taking that single day, but left Chi the authority to close on Friday or Sunday.

Earlier on Tuesday, the county closed bars and the state closed indoor restaurant dining in Orange County and 18 other counties on the state watch list after posting concerning metrics of accelerated COVID-19 spread.

The oceanfront, especially on Newport’s Balboa Peninsula, is packed with bars, pubs and eateries. Many customers would be able to order takeout but would potentially be pushed to the adjacent sand to wait or eat, crowding the beach even more.

“In the sailing, boating world you become really aware of the tides, and they seem to always be running with you or against you. it’s really important to understand which way the tides are going,” Newport Mayor Pro Tem Brad Avery said. “The tide’s definitely running against us on this.”

The Newport Beach lifeguard headquarters at the Newport Pier on Wednesday.
The Newport Beach lifeguard headquarters at the Newport Pier on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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Updates:

9:32 PM, Jul. 01, 2020: Updates with Huntington Beach also shutting down beaches, more information.


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