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Governor Temporarily Closes All Beaches And State Parks In Orange County, Calif.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all beaches and state parks in Orange County to temporarily close on Thursday, after images in the news showed crowds gathering on beaches there and, according to Newsom, violating the state's physical distancing rules.

It's a much more narrow order than what had been expected after a California Police Chiefs Association memo surfaced Wednesday.

"After the well-publicized media coverage of overcrowded beaches this past weekend, in violation of Governor Newsom's Shelter in Place Order, the Governor will be announcing [Thursday] that ALL beaches and all state parks in California will be closed, effective Friday, May 1st," the memo read.

Activity seen on only a few beaches threatened the progress California has made in battling coronavirus, the governor said Thursday.

"Specific issues on some of those beaches raised alarm bells," Newsom said.

The vast majority of coastlines saw people following the statewide orders, he said.

But the "density, the volume of people, concentrated space, particularly in the ... few coastal cities off and around Orange County area. Those were the point of particular concern."

"We're gonna do a hard close in that part of the state, just in the Orange County area. We're working with the county," the governor announced Thursday.

Concern over infection and hospitalization rates in the county was part of the Orange County closure calculation, Newsom said, noting that Orange County was in the top three or four counties in hospitalizations.

On Monday, the governor scolded Californians for crowding the seashore last weekend during a record heat wave, saying that type of behavior could cause a surge in coronavirus infections.

In his press briefing Thursday, Newsom said California had seen a 5.2% increase in positive coronavirus tests earlier this week.

"I know we want it to go away," the governor said, "But we haven't bent back curve downward. We've just flattened that curve. It's stable, but 95 souls were lost in the last 24 hours."

Beaches have stayed open in some other areas of the state, like Ventura and Santa Cruz counties. Crowds flocked to those areas as well, and local officials met in recent days to discuss ways to limit gatherings.

Officials in Newport Beach, Orange County, met Tuesday and voted to not implement any further restrictions on beach or park access. The governor's total closure orders will likely supersede that local mandate.

In Santa Cruz, where heat waves brought massive crowds to the beach, officials are implementing a beach curfew starting Saturday, only allowing visitors before 11 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

Newsom stressed that the Orange County order was part of a highly targeted and focused approach in battling the pandemic, and said he did not want to be "heavy handed."

Still, local officials in Orange County have said the majority of beachgoers were following distancing rules, and that the widely reported photos warped what actually happened on the shore.

The governor has repeatedly said this week that modifications of statewide measures to control the spread of the coronavirus are "weeks, not months away." But that any any level of reopening the economy in California will be guided by behavior, data and science.

Newsom offered people hope, saying, "We have the opportunity to move into this next phase ... very soon, in the next few weeks."

Officials in less-populated areas have called on Newsom to allow them to reopen, while unemployment in the state has reached record levels. In Modoc County officials are going ahead with plans to reopen, without the governor's approval.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hannah Hagemann is a 2019 Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she will work at NPR's National Desk and Weekend Edition.