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California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered Orange County beaches to close until further notice, saying it was necessary to protect public health, while allowing other beaches in California to remain open with some restrictions.
Thursday’s announcement comes days after tens of thousands of people in Orange County packed beaches during a sunny weekend.
A Wednesday memo to the state's police chiefs indicated Newsom planned to close all beaches in the state. But on Thursday, Newsom said the order applied only to beaches in Orange County.
Newsom's order is likely to ignite pushback from community leaders who argue they can safely provide some relief to residents.
"It's time to move on," Huntington Beach resident Jim Puro, 59, said Thursday. "We need to start opening up and I can't think of a better way than to be out in the sun."
The beaches are expansive, he argued. "There is more than enough space for people to socially distance themselves," he said.
Last weekend, some 80,000 people flocked to Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles, with additional thousands gathering at open beaches northwest of Los Angeles. Beaches in Los Angeles County remained closed. The city of San Diego reopened its beaches Monday, but most coastal communities in San Diego County kept their beaches closed.
Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis and Fire Chief Jeff Boyles said in a statement Thursday that they were out patrolling last weekend and most city residents and visitors were keeping their distance.
"What we observed from land and by air was the vast majority of beachgoers practicing social distancing," the statement said.
Lifeguards said most people appeared to be heeding social distance safety rules. But the crowds irked Newsom, who has said California's 40 million residents should try to stay home as much as possible.
"This virus doesn't take the weekends off, this virus doesn't go home because it's a beautiful sunny day around our coasts," he said Monday.
California is approaching 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, although the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. However, hospitalizations have been virtually flat for several weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.