Crowds Return to LA County Beaches After Some Restrictions are Lifted

After two months under lockdown, hundreds of people crowded LA County beaches Wednesday to soak up the sun.

Hundreds of people walked, surfed or lounged along the rocky waterfront at Sunset Beach in California after Los Angeles County officials reopened beaches for exercise and recreational use on Wednesday. (Courthouse News Service / Martin Macias, Jr.)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A mix of masked and unmasked people crowded Los Angeles County beaches Wednesday after officials reopened the over 70 miles of waterfront for some activities such as running, walking and swimming but picnicking, sunbathing and gathering in groups all remain prohibited.

Beaches have been closed for at least two months under county lockdown measures meant to stem the surge of Covid-19 cases.

More than 1,650 people in the county have died after contracting the respiratory disease — with the majority of deaths occurring in the last 30 days — and at least 34,400 have tested positive for the virus.

Officials announced this week the waterfront would reopen for recreational use, exercise, biking and other activities. Beach parking lots, piers and boardwalks remain closed.

Beachgoers are also required to wear masks — when not in the water September 2019 and maintain physical distancing.

“We’re not moving past Covid-19, we’re learning to live with it,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “And we will keep taking measured steps toward a new, safer reality in the days and weeks ahead.” 

On Wednesday, Pasadena, California resident Andres Ochoa walked along the bike path at Will Rogers Beach while listening to music, only his second time at the waterfront since remain-at-home orders went into effect.

In an interview with Courthouse News, Ochoa said he welcomed the reopening of county beaches.

“I think it’s a positive way to move forward,” said Ochoa, who rode public transit for more than an hour to get to the beach. “People like coming to the beach and soaking up the sun, especially after being inside all the time.”

Ochoa, who works at a recycling plant and is studying to be a personal trainer, said he isn’t concerned the loosening of restrictions at this phase of the pandemic will lead to more people getting the virus.

“I think it’s OK timing as long as the rules for social distancing and staying at home are in place,” said Ochoa.

At Santa Monica Beach, Paulie Rodriguez and her friend walked along the beach path without face masks.

Rodriguez said in an interview she wasn’t aware of the new rules for beachgoers but welcomed the ease on restrictions.

“It’s cool, it’s exciting,” Rodriguez said. “It’s so boring out here, boring without anything to do. At least they’re opening up the beaches.”

The move to reopen LA County beaches comes a week after California Gov. Gavin Newsom reached an agreement with two Orange County cities to reopen beaches for active use only. Newsom had ordered beaches across the state to close days earlier.

At Sunset Beach, Edward Estrada carried his sand-covered surfboard up from the shoreline after catching waves for the first time in two months.

Estrada said in an interview he’s stayed away from county beaches during the pandemic.

“I haven’t surfed at all during the shutdown,” said Estrada, a resident of Eagle Rock, California. “I didn’t want to go out when there wasn’t anything saying it was safe but I’m ok if it’s like this.”

By Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of surfers filled the water off Sunset Beach.

But the partial reopening of beaches worries Estrada, who said he believes it could lead to another wave of infections in the county, which already contains the bulk of California’s confirmed Covid-19 cases.

“Even this is too soon but what can we do,” Estrada said. “My opinion is that Americans are just spoiled and don’t know how to sacrifice. I think it shows a lack of perspective.”

Rick Haberman of El Segundo, a surfer with over 30 years of experience riding waves, said in an interview he has been surfing at Ventura and Orange County beaches when LA County waterfront was closed.

Haberman said surfers are maintaining physical distancing even in the water.

“In the water, we’re not sitting right on top of each other,” Haberman said.

Haberman said he has trouble finding a news source he can trust for information on the virus, adding that he believes the rate of infection is higher in denser, more populated areas of LA County.

“I don’t believe most of the news I see,” Haberman said. “I just don’t know if it’s true or not. Aside from gaining the weight and not making the same money, I don’t see any negative effect on me.”

On Tuesday, LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors the county’s remain-at-home order will be in effect until August.

County officials loosened shutdown restrictions on some manufacturing operations, community gardens and golf courses while allowing some retail businesses to offer curbside shopping.

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