On the evening of Tuesday, April 28, San Clemente’s City Council voted unanimously to reopen their city-owned beaches on the following Saturday in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, this prompted waves of people to flock to the beaches, blanketing them in a scene that would lead one to believe that we were in the middle of summer break rather than a global pandemic. In response to this outrageous turnout, California Governor Gavin Newsom promptly ordered a hard close on all Orange County beaches the following Thursday, April 30.
Orange County elected officials were angered by this decision, and both the Huntington Beach and Dana Point City Councils voted to seek a restraining order to block Newsom’s shutdown. In their eyes, the reopening of these beaches was imperative to maintaining their residents’ mental and physical health. Faced with this pressure, Newsom is poised to begin easing social distancing restrictions, but we must hold strong; there are much safer ways to stay physically and mentally healthy while still flattening the curve.
Orange County elected officials would have you believe that reopening these public spaces will not impact said curve either. According to them, a number of precautions were taken before opening the San Clemente beaches, including the closure of beach parking lots so as to dissuade out-of-town beachgoers from visiting and attempts to enforce active use rules which state that visitors must be walking, running, swimming or surfing at all times, but never loitering. These measures were put in place to ensure people abide by the social distancing guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which advise people to keep at least six feet apart from each other.
Those same CDC guidelines also ask that citizens refrain from gathering in groups and avoid mass gatherings, and the 40,000 people who congregated in Newport Beach last weekend certainly constitute a mass gathering. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there are far too many people eager to stick their toes in the sand ー law enforcement simply cannot enforce the rules meant to keep beachgoers safe. If people want to answer the government approved call to enjoy the beach, we’re powerless to stop them short of keeping the beaches closed. The increase of positive tests and peak in COVID-19 related deaths in Orange County since the temporary reopening of the beaches serve as a frightening omen of what’s to come if we open them again.
Still, many people feel that locking oneself away in one’s home brings its own set of issues to contend with. The mayor of San Clemente himself, Dan Bane, stated that he worries for both the mental and physical health of the city’s residents and that the reopening of the beaches for recreational use will allow people to stay physically and mentally fit during the pandemic. Other, more passionate individuals have taken to the state Capitol to protest the lockdowns, arguing that it is unconstitutional to force American citizens to stay indoors.
Needless to say, it is easy to argue that COVID-19 is not worth self-isolating over. It is perhaps even easier to argue that it is your constitutional right to go outside and enjoy your life, even when in the throes of a global pandemic. That is to say, it is easy to argue these things until you or a loved one contracts the virus. Spending time outside is a surefire way to do just that. While politicians want you to believe the push to reopen the country is motivated by a concern for public health and civil liberties, the actual reason is very simple: it is economical. Big businesses, in particular, would benefit from opening the country again, and they are willing to risk grandma’s health to do so.
If our beloved grandmothers are to stand a fighting chance in the coming days, we are going to need to impose greater restrictions, not remove them. Beaches, parks and other non-essential areas that draw large crowds must be temporarily but completely shut down. Furthermore, people without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) should not be allowed into places like grocery stores and fast-food drive-thrus because they constitute a risk to others around them. Likewise, massive protests objecting to these lockdowns while not wearing PPE must be broken up, not because the protest is loud or disruptive but because they are putting the lives of everybody involved in danger.
While this situation is less than ideal, it is surely liveable. Those who feel unable to stay fit under quarantine should consider working out from home. Many popular fitness businesses are now offering free online classes during the pandemic, requiring nothing more than a yoga mat and some space in one’s living room. Those looking to get their daily dose of vitamin D could spend more time on their balconies gardening and relaxing. Even those who don’t have balconies need not despair: if you have proper PPE there is nothing wrong with slipping on your mask and going for a jog in your neighborhood.
It is also entirely possible to stay mentally well while practicing social distancing. There is no better time than now to crack open your most treasured book or start up your favorite video game. The more adventurous among us may consider picking up a new hobby, like learning an instrument or cooking complicated meals. Of course, it is also important that one takes time to interact with friends and loved ones, even if it has to be over Zoom. Apps like Netflix Party and Discord allow you to watch movies and TV shows with your friends — all from a safe distance.
No matter how one plans on spending this quarantine season, one thing is certain: we should not reopen public spaces. California residents must call upon Governor Newsom to keep these necessary restrictions strong. During this time, we should be encouraging people to get comfortable staying in their homes, and, regrettably, penalties for not doing so should be expanded. Police in California have already begun ticketing those who flout the statewide stay-at-home order, and those fees should be increased if people continue to do as they please. Though these punishments may seem draconian, adherence to these rules could mean life or death for at-risk individuals. It is better to close our public spaces and stay safe than be sorry later.
There is no sugarcoating the facts: this isolation period has been difficult and it will likely continue to be difficult. That being said, the length of time it will persist is entirely dependent on whether or not Americans are willing to stay inside. Someday, when the pandemic is over and we’re safe, the beaches will reopen and all will be right again. For now, however, we should crack open our favorite books, do some yoga in our living rooms and stay inside; we will thank ourselves in the long run.