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California beachgoers urged to practice social distancing

Swimmers and surfers wade in the water Sunday, April 26, 2020, in Newport Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES — A week after Californians weary of stay-at-home orders packed beaches, authorities pleaded for weekend visitors to follow social distancing rules: no bunching, keep walking or swimming, and leave the umbrellas at home.

Lifeguards and police will be out in force Saturday even in cities that are battling Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new order that took effect Friday and singled out Orange County beaches for closure.

In Huntington Beach, Police Chief Robert Handy said officers would start with warning people who hit the sands and move on to citations but would end with “arrests if we have to.”

In neighboring Newport Beach, the city put out barricades and spoke with surfers to advise them of the closure, and said people were quick to comply.

San Diego

In San Diego, where people can exercise on the beach but not linger, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer praised residents for heeding safety restrictions that public health officials have credited at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

But he urged them to redouble their efforts over the weekend.

“We need your help, we need your cooperation, and we need your patience,” Faulconer said. “We’re not going to lose all of the gains that we’ve made.”

Orange County

Orange County beach cities argue that most of the tens of thousands of people who hit their shores last weekend did practice anti-virus safety measures and fumed that they were being unfairly singled out.

On Friday, an Orange County judge refused a request by Huntington Beach and others to block Newsom’s order. Judge Nathan Scott said he weighed the harm the closures caused the city and others, but the virus’s threat to public safety should take priority. He said he will consider the issue again May 11 after the city, state and others have briefed the court in more detail.

Newport Beach will consider taking legal action this weekend, but barring that will comply with the state’s order, spokesman John Pope said.

Beaches are just the latest focus for frustrations over Newsom’s month-and-a-half-old order requiring nearly 40 million residents to remain mostly indoors. Businesses not deemed essential are closed until COVID-19 testing, hospital and death rates indicate the state outbreak is beginning to ease. Millions have been thrown out of work.

While Newsom has promised a cautious, phased reopening of the state, protesters don’t want to wait.

In Huntington Beach, police estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people gathered for May Day on a beachside street. They waved American flags and held signs. But most of them wore no masks and didn’t practice social distancing.

Protests in Sacramento

In Sacramento, as police lined steps outside the Capitol, protesters waved signs that said “Defend Freedom” and broke into “U-S-A” chants.

Joe Ranciato from Roseville, California, showed up to the protest inside a homemade “socially distancing cage,” made with plastic pipes and duct tape.

“I’m really fed up with what’s going on,” said Ranciato, 58. “I don’t like my freedom to be put in jeopardy.”

There were about a dozen organized rallies in cities including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

On the state’s far northern end, rural Modoc County became the first to defy the state’s shutdown orders. The county moved Friday to reopen hair salons, churches, restaurants and the county’s only movie theater. There haven’t been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among 9,000 residents, but the reopening came with strict social distancing limits. Businesses could only have half the patrons, and customers must stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.

Acts of defiance

Elsewhere, a variety of businesses from restaurants to hairstylists in rural and more populated areas have opened their doors in individual acts of defiance.

Newsom acknowledged the building anxiety while repeatedly teasing the possibility the state could begin relaxing aspects of the restrictions next week.

“We are all impatient,” the governor said during his daily briefing Friday.

He also confirmed the obvious: With its once-roaring economy in shackles, the state will face a funding shortfall that will run into billions of dollars.

“Billions in surplus, in just weeks, tens of billions of deficit,” he said.

But the governor also noted that while hospitalization statistics are heading in a better direction, the state just passed the grim marks of 50,000 confirmed infections and 2,000 deaths.

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