Orange County officials are closing down the parking lots at county-run beaches and hiking trails, while keeping the beaches and trails themselves open, in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus by having fewer people gathering closely.
People will continue to be allowed to walk through county-run beaches and parks and ride bicycles and horses, as long as people keep a six-foot distance from each other, officials said.
The goal, county health officials said, is for people to be able to enjoy beaches and trails for their physical and mental wellbeing, while keeping at least a six-foot distance to prevent the virus’ spread
“We clearly want people to social distance right now. That being said, we want individuals to get out and walk their dog. If you can go for a walk with your family and stay in your family unit, great. If you can go for a bike ride and stay social distanced, great,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, the county health officer, at the county supervisors’ regular meeting Tuesday.
The move comes after a weekend in which people flaunted the CDC-recommended six-foot distancing rule from other people when they visited many county and city beaches and trails across Southern California, according to widespread news reports and social media posts from
“Clearly people are not listening to advice on social distancing,” Quick said Tuesday.
“We want people to be social distanced [except from] their family unit, in these areas. I think the logical move to shut down parking lots is trying to get at exactly that. You shut down parking lots so you’re not having large groups of people coming in to do that.”
The beaches and parks themselves are scheduled to remain open, officials said.
The closures at county-run beaches and trailheads will be to parking lots, as well as playgrounds, exercise equipment, and event shelters at every county park and beach.
“I know that the governor is really keen on practicing the social distancing, which is really important,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said at the meeting.
Bartlett told her Supervisor colleagues she’s worried about people from San Diego and Los Angeles counties flocking to Orange County beaches.
“We really got to reign it in at this point … this coming weekend we’re expecting more good weather. With LA and San Diego counties closing down, guess where they’re going to go?” she said.
Cities across OC have closed down various community centers and cancelled park programs due to the virus. But many parks remained open, while some cities closed down playground equipment.
As of Tuesday, health officials reported 153 known cases of COVID-19 in Orange County, though they say the real number is likely much higher due to limited testing availability.
People with mild symptoms of COVID-19 in Orange County should stay at home and away from everybody else, in what’s known as self-isolation, and not try to get tested, officials said Tuesday.
“We simply do not have enough tests to test everybody,” Quick said, noting a limited testing supply locally and nationwide.
Following state and federal guidelines, the existing tests are now being reserved for people with severe symptoms or who have the highest risk of death: elderly people and people with compromised immune systems.
CDC officials recommend keeping a six-foot distance from other people to help curb the virus spread, a practice known as social distancing. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians to stay home last Thursday. The order banned social gatherings — especially in public places. Although people are still allowed to go out to get groceries, prescriptions and other urgent supplies.
Although Newsom’s order didn’t close state parks and trails, it shut down campgrounds and indoor buildings at state parks.
A spokesman for Newsom said state parks and trails are something the Governor is tracking closely and could make a decision on very soon.
But the county and city officials have taken further steps and closed down many parks.
As far as enforcement, Sheriff Don Barnes has said the public has been cooperative when deputies approach people in groups and explain the health risks of not social distancing.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.