California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a clear message to his state's residents after images circulated of throngs of crowds on Ventura and Orange County beaches this weekend: stop flouting social distancing guidelines or it could delay the state's reopening.
"Those images are an example of what not to see, people, what not to do if we're going to make the meaningful progress that we've made in the last few weeks extend into the next number of weeks," Newsom, a Democrat, said during a news conference Monday.
"I cannot impress upon you more, to those Californians watching, that we can't see the images like we saw, particularly on Saturday in Newport Beach and elsewhere, in the state of California," he added.
Newsom's comments come as a slew of other governors have moved to act on or schedule reopenings of their states despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp allowed the state's hair and nail salons, barber shops, massage businesses and gyms to reopen last week, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced Monday that he will allow state's stay-at-home order to expire on Thursday and open businesses on Friday, although at reduced capacities.
Newsom, who issued a stay-at-home order in March, emphasized that California was approaching a point of safely loosening some restrictions put in place to staunch the spread of the virus -- but that such a shift was dependent upon residents' behavior.
"The reality is we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order," he said. "That is a very optimistic point to emphasize."
"However, that's driven by data, it's driven by behavior, and as we change our behavior, we can impact the science the health and the data," Newsom added. "This virus doesn't take the weekends off."
Beaches in Los Angeles and San Diego counties remained closed this weekend despite the heatwave, but were open in Ventura and Orange counties. However, beachgoers still had to adhere to a patchwork of guidelines and restrictions, including keeping parking lots closed to discourage outside visitors and limit crowds.
And authorities in both Ventura and Orange counties reported excellent behavior by beachgoers, who they said were observing social distancing rules after weeks being hunkered down to slow the spread of the virus.
While there were no citations or arrests over the crowded beaches this weekend, with "a few warnings scattered all throughout the state of California" that he found to be "a better approach," Newsom said that he was willing to increase compliance efforts.
"We will avail ourselves to more aggressive enforcement of the stay-at-home order, of the social distancing, of the guidelines and procedures that we expect to be followed all across the state of California," he said.
He pointed to people who were "abusing" the open beaches as targets of heightened enforcement.
"I don't want to be punitive," Newsom said. "My gosh, someone who has lost their job, last thing they want to do is -- walk their dog, they're with their kids, they've got cabin fever, and they just want to take a rest on the beach, and all of a sudden, they get a citation. I don't want to see that happen."
He continued, "But if there are people thumbing their nose and abusing it, putting their lives at risk because they're impacting the lives of others, and ultimately setting back the cause of reopening the economy as quickly as we'd like to, I think we may have to do a little bit more."