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Newport Beach votes to close beaches on Fourth of July

The city of Newport Beach will shut down its beaches on the Fourth of July, following news that two city lifeguards have tested positive for coronavirus.

The City Council held an emergency meeting Wednesday, July 1, to discuss challenges as the holiday weekend approaches, including staffing concerns after nearly two dozen other lifeguards needed to be quarantined after exposure to the lifeguards who contracted COVID-19, officials said.

Newport Beach is historically one of the busiest stretches of coast on the Fourth of July, especially when the holiday falls on a weekend. This year, the holiday also coincides with the largest swell of the season expected to hit, with waves in the 5- to 8-foot range expected, and up to 20-footers at the Wedge.

Mayor Will O’Neill, who called the emergency meeting, said a big concern is not only the number of people who may show up in the city but also the big swell when people who are not regular ocean users show up.

“That’s the reason for the call for the emergency meeting as we move into a weekend, where we know we have people who are coming into the city in large quantities who just don’t have that experience in the water,” he said.

Fire Chief Jeff Boyles, who also heads the lifeguard division, said a third lifeguard has started to show symptoms but test results had not yet come back.

The two who have tested positive cooperated wiith contact tracing, tracking who they had come in contact with for longer than 15 minutes and within a six-foot distance, he said. The seasonal lifeguards who tested positive were involved in a re-certification process, project management and curriculum for the junior lifeguard program, which was scheduled to start for younger guards on Monday but may also be postponed.

Boyles said there would be sufficient staffing if the city opted to keep the beaches open, but lifeguards would be stretched thin.

O’Neill said he was concerned about Los Angeles and Laguna Beach closing and state beaches shutting down parking, potentially sending even more crowds to Newport Beach. Add on top of that bars and indoor restaurants shutting down, which could prompt people to order take-out to eat at the beach. Then there’s the big swell hitting.

“We are adding people at a time we’re already stretched thin,” O’Neill said. “I cannot in good conscience add on more to our lifeguards. We just can’t.”

Councilmember Joy Brenner said it’s not just a matter of whether there are enough lifeguards on staff for a busy holiday, but also doing so safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The exposure we’re putting the lifeguards under by having to possibly rescue victims is something that is significant,” she said.

Councilman Kevin Muldoon cast the sole vote against the beach closure, which will be in effect from 10 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday.

“”The science and data do not support this closure,” he said. “Of all the places during a pandemic to be closed, the beaches and outdoor spaces are not to be. They are considered to be the safest places with the lowest transmission rates.”

Police will have to try and keep people off the sand in Newport Beach after city officials opted to close the beaches on Fourth of July.  (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Councilmember Diane Dixon asked about enforcement and worried people wouldn’t get the message in time for the holiday.

Police chief Jon Lewis said that people would be told the beaches are closed, but stopped short of saying they would be fined.

The council’s decision gives the city manager discretion to decide whether to expand the closure to the entire weekend. The July 4 closure includes beach areas and amenities such as the oceanfront boardwalk and Newport Pier. The majority parking lots will also close, though some spaces will remain open for business and restaurant activity.

The city will put up fencing and signs to deter beachgoers.

O’Neill acknowledged that some residents will be disappointed, but added, “I would ask no one takes it out on our police and lifeguards. They will just be trying to do their jobs.”

Source: Orange County Register

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