Gov. Newsom Puts Politics Over Data in California Shutdown

Los Angeles County, which has implemented the most draconian beach closures in the country, has in excess of 1,000 coronavirus deaths. Orange County, which has consistently taken a less restrictive approach, has had 45 deaths going into this weekend. Orange County’s population of 3.3 million is larger than 22 states. If it were a state, Orange County’s death rate of 0.0014% would be the 49th lowest in the country. The primary hospital in Newport Beach has a 475-beds capacity and has never treated more than 25 people for coronavirus issues at any given time. The leaders of that hospital system believe that the curve has flattened, and that Orange County needs to responsibly reopen.

Against this backdrop of public health – and in favor of placing data and reality over politics and hysteria – the Newport Beach City Council voted this week to keep its beaches open. Data from across the country demonstrated that open beaches do not lead to a spike in cases of COVID-19. Los Angeles County closed their beaches over a month ago and data now shows that every single Los Angeles County beach community has a higher per capita infection rate than Orange County’s open beach communities. Brevard County, Florida with a population of 600,000 has largely kept their beaches open throughout the crisis. That county has seen 8 deaths and 47 hospitalizations in total. Duval County, Florida, with a population of nearly 1 million, opened its beaches nearly two weeks ago and has seen no ascertainable spike. On April 26, it had four new cases. In other words, sunlight, heat, and wide-open, outdoor spaces are not conducive to the spread of COVID-19.

This is especially true if beachgoers practice social distancing. In our decision to open the beaches, we planned to add more signs reminding beachgoers to use common sense. We also planned to deploy additional lifeguards and police officers to ensure that beachgoers continued to use the beach responsibly. It was a good compromise based upon the actual conditions on the ground.

However, 428 miles away in Sacramento and without consulting with a single Newport Beach official, Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to substitute his will for our judgment, shutting down the entire 42 miles of Orange County coastline, including Newport’s. He did this in part based upon widely disseminated and wildly misleading media photographs taken to give the false impression that Newport’s beaches were packed with people that were declining to use distancing. Local fire and police authorities reviewed this media depiction and agreed that it was misleading. What they “observed from land and by air was the vast majority of beach goers practicing social distancing.”

The fundamental question is whether Californians going to the beach is dangerous. A governor who shuts down beaches in the name of health and safety when open beaches do not actually threaten health or safety exceeds his Constitutional authority. The idea that Californians are in greater danger at the beach than they are when visiting Costco or Walmart, or for that matter, an open marijuana dispensary, is preposterous.

Children digging in the sand, teenagers surfing, and people reading a good book in a beach chair threatens the health and safety of no one. It is time for Gavin Newsom to stop pretending otherwise. Let cities and counties do their jobs and respond to the needs of their local populations. Let facts prevail over false media narratives. Keep the beaches open.

In the meantime, every single closure sign in Orange County should have our governor’s name on it. People will want to know who stripped them of their freedom of movement without data to support it.

Will O’Neill is the Mayor of Newport Beach, CA

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