Coastal cities surprised by move, cities will make the decision on whether to re-open beaches
Beaches in at least some area cities will reopen with restrictions and water activities such as surfing and swimming will be allowed Monday morning, April 27, while all county residents will be under a new order to wear facial coverings outside beginning May 1. The cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach’s beaches are not reopening on Monday, April 27 (see joint statement at the end of this story).
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher made the announcements Friday, April 24, at a daily press briefing, where he and others also raised concerns about the impact on the local health care system from a growing number of COVID-19 cases south of the border.
He also said 183 new positive cases for the coronavirus had been reported in the county, marking the second day in a row that a record number had been received. But Fletcher also introduced a new method of reporting new cases that took into account the growing number of tests that were being conducted, which he said gave a better understanding of trends over time.
Water activities including recreational boating have been prohibited since April 4 under orders of county health officials as a way of stemming the spread of the coronavirus. The modified order allows swimming, surfing, paddle-boarding and kayaking, but not recreational boating.
All cities in the county have closed their beaches but mayors of coastal cities have proposed a plan for a phased reopening, but with the understanding it would come in collaboration with county health authorities. Fletcher’s announcement that water activities could resume Monday, though cities would have to take action to reopen their own beaches, surprised officials in those coastal cities.
“This announcement caught everyone off guard as we had been working with the county and all other coastal cities on a systematic and coordinated plan for reopening beaches when appropriate,” said Solana Beach City Manager Gregory Wade. “This plan had not yet been finalized or approved and our collective understanding was that the County’s Health Order for ocean water closure to recreational activities would remain in place until at least May 1.”
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Friday afternoon, April 24, the beaches and bays in the city would reopen Monday, April 27. Earlier this week, he had said all coastal city mayors had agreed on a coordinated approach to reopening their beaches, but only after the county had given approval of the plan.
Late in the day Friday, April 24, Carlsbad announced it was holding a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25, to vote on reopening its beaches. A spokeswoman for the city of Coronado said beaches in that city would open Monday, April 27.
Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said he was “pleasantly surprised” to learn of the county’s decision to alter the public order regarding beach closures.
“I expected it would be further away, but they are making a decision based on the science and the data,” Dedina said. “I feel good we have had a process.”
He noted that he had no input, no heads-up that the change in the public health order was coming Friday, April 24.
“It’s not a politically driven decision at all,” Dedina said. “The county used the data to make the decision. Now it’s up to the public to behave accordingly and (respect) the physical distancing.”
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said on Twitter that her city’s beaches would reopen Monday, April 27.
When asked about Oceanside’s plans, City Manager Deanna Lorson responded with an email that she had not received any official notification from the county. She also wrote that Oceanside had participated in the regional plan to reopen beaches, and that it would be done in a coordinated matter with other coastal cities.
Fletcher stressed that people should not assume their local beaches would be open, and they should check with their cities.
“It will be on each and every one of them to determine if they want to open up the beaches on Monday morning or not, or when they choose to do it,” he said.
Having some but not all beaches in the county closed because of the coronavirus had created some issues earlier this month. Coronado and Oceanside saw crowds of people coming to their beaches when they were the only two open in the county, which raised concerns that the situation could be contributing to the spread of the virus.
Fletcher also announced a new countywide order for people to wear a facial covering whenever they are within 6 feet of a non-household member beginning May 1. Previously, the county had only a strong recommendation to wear facial coverings when they leave their homes.
“We believe that there is increased evidence that this is not only helpful, but perhaps and just as important, we believe that this is going to be a part of life in the new normal until such time as we have a vaccine or a widely available therapeutic drug,” he said.
He said May 1 was the date set for the new order to give people time to adjust, but also said the county would like people to begin complying now.
Fletcher also said restrictions on parking and activities in parks could be lifted by May 1 if local jurisdiction had a plan for how the parks would safely be operated by April 28.
So far there has not been a surge of patients with the disease at area hospitals, but there is a growing concern that things could change as more cases appear south of the border and in South Bay.
“I’m a Chula Vista boy,” Supervisor Greg Cox said. “So believe me when I say we are taking this situation seriously.”
Cox said there was no indication why hospitals in South County were reporting more positive cases than in other areas, but it could have to do with the number of people crossing the border daily.
“Even if a small number of cases are coming from the border, it’s a concern and we must do more about it,” he said.
Fletcher said more than 200,000 U.S. citizens live south of the border, and many routinely travel into the county because they have jobs as essential workers.
Fletcher said county officials had called the state secretary of Health and Human Services and other state officials to request assistance and are asking officials in Baja California to implement social distance orders, among other steps
He said federal officials also have been contacted for assistance in having temperature checks for everyone crossing the border, to identify and quarantine for 14 days anyone with symptoms.
The State also is providing free motel rooms to health care workers who live in Mexico, but work in the United States so they will not have to cross the border to go home each night, he said.
Fletcher also announced that a homeless person who had been staying in one of the county-funded hotel rooms to protect people from the coronavirus had tested negative and was scheduled to be transferred to the shelter in the San Diego Convention Center, but the person has died of unknown causes.
In a change to way the number of positive tests are announced, Fletcher said county reports would now include the percent of positive cases for the overall number of tests conducted.
As the county ramps up testing, the number of positive cases would naturally increase, he explained. Showing a percent of positive cases from all cases would help to show trends.
For instance, 183 positive tests were reported Thursday, the highest ever for the county and an increase from the previous day’s report of 152 positive cases.
When taken as a percent of total cases, however, the 183 positives represented 6 percent of all tests, while the 152 cases represented 7 percent of all tests, so the number itself was not a significant jump from day to day.
But there had been a jump this week, as the number of positive cases on April 21 was 57, or just 4 percent of all tests.
The county also reported two more deaths from the disease, bringing the total to 102. Both deaths were women, one in her late 40s, the other in her 60s. One of them died April 22 and the other died April 23. Both had underlying medical conditions.
Also on Friday, April 24, in Encinitas, people returned to the Coastal Rail Trail on the first day it reopened and appeared to be mostly following social distancing guidelines after the popular pathway was placed off-limits for more than a week when too few visitors were willing to comply.
Warm weather, clear skies and blooming spring flowers encouraged people to get out and enjoyed the day. Joggers, stroller-pushing pedestrians and cyclists all gave each other ample distance, and only a few wore the face masks often advised to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Parking remained blocked off along Coast Highway and many of the streets nearest the Coastal Rail Trail to discourage people from congregating in those scenic areas.
Temporary portable fencing has been erected along some of the state beach areas in Carlsbad just north of Encinitas, including North Ponto and the bluffs at Terramar. Police officers on bicycles and motorcycles, and state parks officials in vehicles appeared to be enforcing the closures and regulations.
—Gary Warth is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
—- Teri Figuroa and Phil Diehl contributed to this story.
Below is a joint news release issued April 24 from the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach:
“The cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach’s beaches are not opening on Monday, April 27, and will remain closed until further notice while the two cities respectively evaluate the necessary staffing, protocols, and logistics in order to reopen the beaches in accordance with the county’s requirements, stated in their yet-to-be-released amended health order, and to protect the health and safety of city personnel and the public.
“While Del Mar and Solana Beach participated in a regional discussion this week regarding a coordinated approach to reopening the beaches, the cities did not approve the phased approach referenced by the County of San Diego and City of San Diego. There was inadequate time for each respective city to share their unique concerns and needs for a coordinated approach to reopening the beaches.
“Throughout the discussions, all parties, including the County, agreed reopening of the beaches and implementation of the two-phased approach would occur in accordance with State and Federal guidelines for re-opening based on Coronavirus data points for the region. However, the number of confirmed COVID cases reported today by the County of San Diego indicates a two-day high to-date rather than a downward or flattening trend.
“As part of any reopening, the County’s order requires that limitations on parking and limiting beach activity to walking and running remain in effect, which means that the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach need to evaluate how this could be implemented, including the necessary staffing and personal protective equipment for employees in order to monitor and enforce, as well as the associated costs.
“Further information on timing for beach reopening will be provided as available.”