Beaches, golf courses and parks across the county will open Friday, officials announced Thursday, even as San Diego County health authorities require face coverings to be worn in public and local COVID-19 cases rose by 132 and deaths by four.
The announcement offers both a loosening of some health orders and tightening of others, as stay-at-home orders will be extended indefinitely in accordance with the state’s guidance.
Speculation arose Wednesday night that Gov. Gavin Newsom might order the closure of all beaches statewide to prevent crowds from gathering. The speculation prompted a swift backlash from some Southern California officials. County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said he spoke with Newsom on the phone, and during the conversation, the governor praised San Diego’s efforts to ensure social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Ultimately, Newsom announced Thursday he was only closing beaches in Orange County, where he said crowds were prevalent during last weekend’s heat wave.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer took to Twitter to hail the move.
“San Diego beaches will stay open under our plan approved by lifeguards and health officials,” he wrote on Twitter. “In a time of great crisis we don’t need knee-jerk policies. We need to keep a steady hand. It’s the only way to keep the public’s trust. Keep it up, SD!”
Faulconer insisted earlier that San Diego residents adhered to social-distancing rules while visiting the beaches.
Del Mar was set to reopen its beaches for recreation activities Thursday morning, but city officials withdrew those plans Thursday morning amid the possibility of Newsom issuing a statewide beach closure.
Beaches in San Diego, Oceanside, Encinitas, Coronado and Imperial Beach reopened for recreation activities Monday, but beaches in Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach remained closed.
While San Diego County will make its own decision regarding beach openings, Newsom still wields authority to rescind the loosening of those restrictions.
“We know beaches are special to Southern California and to San Diegans,” said County Chairman Greg Cox. “Let’s not do anything that ends our endless summer.”
Parks will begin to open Friday, Fletcher said, with individual cities making the decision on which to open and when. The county is allowing for half of parking lots to be opened, and cities must post social-distancing protocols near the entrances to parks. Additionally, members of the same household can now lawfully engage in team sports like baseball, soccer or frisbee, Fletcher said. Cities that fail to enforce social-distancing and facial-covering protocols could see parks forcibly shuttered by the county again.
Golf courses will open Friday with similar restrictions — no personal golf instruction, no golf carts, no sit-down food and no congregating — and will require the courses to take temperature checks of employees and customers.
Beaches remain open for walking, running and cycling “where appropriate,” Fletcher said. Active water sports such as kayaking, surfing and swimming are permitted. Parking lots will remain closed.
San Diego County officials gave the green light for recreational boating as well on the county’s lakes, bays and ocean, as long as members of a boating party were restricted to members of the same household.
“No party boats, no party barges,” Fletcher said.
County officials also clarified the facial-covering health order. Residents must wear coverings when going into a store or business, around people in their offices and when within six feet of other people who are not members of their household. People are not required to wear coverings at home or in their yard, their car, while jogging or surfing or if they have a medical condition preventing them from wearing a facial covering. Coverings include a mask, bandanna, scarf or even a T-shirt.
The new cases reported Thursday bring the county’s cumulative total to 3,564 cases and 124 deaths.
The additional deaths were four men, ranging in age from their mid-50s to late 80s. Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said three of them had underlying medical conditions.
Currently, 355 people testing positive or presumed-positive for COVID-19 are in hospitals, 136 of whom are in the ICU.
Thursday’s updated numbers increased the total hospitalized because of COVID-19 to 773 and the number of people who spent at least some time in intensive care to 244.
The county and its medical partners tested 1,129 people Wednesday, with 6% returning positive. Those entities have completed more than 51,000 tests since the beginning of the pandemic, and the positive percentage of tests has decreased by a little more than 1% since April 1, a sign the region may be seeing a decreased imprint from the illness, according to San Diego County Public Health.
The rate of hospitalization among COVID-19 positive cases is 21.7%, the rate of intensive care treatment is 6.8% and the mortality rate is 3.5%. All three percentages have been slowly decreasing.
Wooten reported 47 active outbreaks in the county Thursday. Of those, 31 came in congregate living facilities and could be traced to 725 cases and 64 deaths. The other 16 community outbreaks could be traced to 140 cases and five deaths.
A main topic for officials Wednesday was the prospect of an overloaded health care system, particularly with the news of North County hospital system Palomar Health laying off 317 employees, citing significant patient visit declines and loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Wooten, hospitals laying off employees as revenues decline remains a major concern, but “across the board, we think that is not the situation.” She mentioned that COVID-19 had significantly changed how medicine is provided, including a significant increase in telemedicine capabilities.
Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s director of epidemiology and vaccination, said part of hospitals’ declining patient load was likely because of concerns about infection at the facilities.
“There may be some people out there who are not seeking emergency care who really do need to,” McDonald said, specifying stoke, heart attack and diabetes-related symptoms. “Going to our local emergency departments in San Diego County is safe.”
Fletcher said county staff have distributed nearly 3 million pieces of personal protective equipment since the public health crisis began.
At the San Diego Convention Center, the two people sheltering there who tested positive for COVID-19 have been removed to public health rooms. Fletcher said Wednesday that 1,129 people at the center have been tested for COVID-19.
Fletcher said the county has counted 30 total cases in the region’s unsheltered population.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: