After a six-week closure, Los Angeles County beaches are reopening Wednesday to limited activities in what amounts to a small but symbolic milestone in the effort to slowly ease stay-at-home orders implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Permitted activities will include running, walking, swimming and surfing. Group sports like volleyball are prohibited.
More languid activities, including picnicking and sunbathing, and their accessories — canopies, coolers and the like — will continue to be prohibited.
Face coverings will be mandatory for anyone on the sand but not for people in the water. Beachgoers will be required to practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from other groups, the department said.
Beach parking lots, bike paths, piers and boardwalks will remain closed.
The county’s beaches have been closed since late March. The planned reopening comes days after California began allowing some portions of the economy to reopen, including offering curbside pickup at bookstores, clothiers, flower shops and other retailers.
County health officials will be evaluating how well the beach reopening goes, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said, including whether people are able to keep moving and not gather in one place.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday that he supports reopening the city’s beaches for active recreation, with some restrictions. Sitting or tanning in the “dry areas of sand” would not be a good idea right now, Garcetti said.
“But the wet sand area — if you need to get in there to swim, to surf … that is something I hope we can earn again.”
Manhattan Beach Mayor Richard Montgomery said Monday in a statement that if beachgoers don’t follow the new rules, the shoreline could be closed again by state and local officials. Violators could also face fines and criminal prosecution, the city said.
The restrictions closely match new policies at Orange County beaches. Some coastal areas, including Seal Beach and Dana Point, received permission to reopen after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a temporary “hard closure” on April 30, citing concerns with crowds.
If Newsom or Los Angeles County health officials see evidence of beachgoers not practicing social distancing, “they can and will close us down, as they did in Orange County,” Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand said on his Facebook page.
He added: “So please, hit the beach, do your thing, and leave. No hanging out for this first phase.”
Long Beach is also opening its beaches.
The move “signifies a step towards more opportunities to enjoy our open spaces,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “I know that many in our community have been looking forward to more recreation and I’m urging everyone to continue practicing physical distancing so we can continue moving forward safely.”
On Tuesday, health officials in Los Angeles County — a coronavirus hot spot in California with more than 1,600 deaths — also signaled that progress toward reopening could be slow, with some stay-at-home orders lasting well into the summer.
Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that she didn’t see the timeline shortening without “dramatic change to the virus and tools at hand.” She later added that while the stay-at-home policy would likely remain, some individual restrictions will be “gradually relaxed” under the county’s five-step plan.
“Our hope is that by using the data, we’d be able to slowly lift restrictions over the next three months,” she said. But without widely available testing for the coronavirus or rapid home kits that would allow people to test themselves daily, it seems unlikely that the social distancing directives and stay-at-home orders would be completely eased, she said.
Other local officials said they would support lifting more rules if conditions improved and health experts said it’s safe to do so.
A few days ago, officials lifted restrictions on hiking trails, parks and golf courses, but there is no specific timetable for what rules could be lifted next.
“We’re not moving past COVID-19, we’re learning to live with it,” Garcetti said.