LOS ANGELES – As the coronavirus surges in the state, Californians celebrated Independence Day with virtual parades featuring photos of flag-draped front porches instead of pancake breakfasts and crowded festivities.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers were out and about, reminding people to wear masks in public and turning away disappointed sun-seekers from beaches that were closed to discourage crowds for the holiday weekend.
California is in a make-or-break moment, with infection rates and hospitalizations rising sharply. Gov. Gavin Newsom this week ordered the three-week closures of bars, indoor restaurant dining areas and other indoor venues for 21 of 58 counties, including the two most populous, Los Angeles and San Diego.
The country’s recent reckoning with racial injustice also marked the day.
Demonstrators in San Jose created a Black Lives Matter mural while former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Twitter: “Happy birthday, America. Thank you for letting me live the American Dream. We must fight every day to make sure that dream is as true for a Black child born in Minneapolis as it was for a white bodybuilder born in Austria.”
Many communities canceled annual fireworks shows and limited or closed beaches, changes that appeared to successfully keep crowds at bay. The beach closures that began Friday from Los Angeles County rolled northward through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In Orange County, hugely popular beaches such as Huntington and Newport closed Saturday and Sunday.
Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco set up barricades to prevent access to its beaches. But determined beach-goers on Friday simply carried small children and gear over the blockades.
“So our sheriff's patrols were just driving up and down the coast," said Jessica Blair, communications director for the city. “It was just a revolving door of people climbing over the barricades, getting set up and getting kicked out.”
Seal Beach police Sgt. Nick Nicholas said Saturday afternoon that people appeared to have gotten the message that beaches in Orange County were closed.
“It’s been good so far. We don’t see anybody on the beach," he said. “It looks like people are enjoying our main street and restaurants."
He said the crowd size was “the right amount."
On Saturday, California reported another 6,500 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the state's total to more than a quarter million cases. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Enforcement has been a touchy issue throughout the state.
The Southern California cities of West Hollywood and Santa Monica as well as the central coast city of Monterey are enforcing mask mandates with tickets ranging from $100 to $300 for a first offense.
About 200 state inspectors that are part of new “strike teams” set up by Newsom are fanning out over the weekend to enforce rules — and encountered trouble in the Santa Clara County city of Morgan Hill.
At a news conference Saturday, Mayor Rich Constantine slammed the appropriateness of armed officers with the state's Alcohol Beverage Control who visited at least a dozen restaurants Friday night and ordered them to close.
Constantine said he doesn't know why the agents ordered the restaurants to close when they are allowed to operate outdoors. The strike team did not cite anyone, but they were “heavy-handed" and did not explain what the restaurants were doing wrong, he said.
“We can’t even get ahold of anybody in the governor's office, and we’re the government," Constantine said. “The county attorney, our city attorney all have been trying to get an answer so we can get our businesses a definitive answer."
Ladera Grill owner Dan McCranie said it's beyond frustrating that just as they're starting to get customers back, “these guys come up and say we can’t show you a rule or regulation but you will stop this."
In response, California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said Saturday that the restaurants did not have permission from the state to open.
San Diego County beaches remained open and saw tens of thousands of visitors on Friday. Many clustered in socially distanced groups when they weren’t splashing in the shallows. But lifeguards said not everyone was obeying public safety rules despite public address system reminders.
In San Jose, Mayor Sam Liccardo pleaded in a tweet Friday for the public to avoid crowds and maintain distance from people outside their household. He was responding to a photo of a street packed with happy, socializing diners.
Authorities have warned that even ordinary gatherings of families and friends have been identified as sources of COVID-19 infections. In remote Northern California, Lake County reported its first COVID-19 related death Friday, and Humboldt County said Friday that about a quarter of its 144 cases were reported in the past two weeks.
“This has been driven largely by residents gathering and visiting between households both locally and while traveling, as well as by illness occurring in the cannabis industry workforce,” said Dr. Teresa Frankovich, the county health officer.
The state also is fighting an outbreak in its prisons. The virus is suspected of killing another death row inmate Saturday at San Quentin State Prison, where about 40% of inmates are now infected, corrections officials said. Dewayne Michael Carey, 59, was pronounced deceased on Saturday, bringing the total number of COVID-related deaths of death row inmates at the Marin County prison to five.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.