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Even as fog hugged the coastline, barricades blocked beach access in places and public health officials urged people to stay home, residents from Oakland to Santa Cruz ventured outdoors in search of some semblance of normalcy over the Fourth of July weekend.
By 10 a.m. Friday, a steady line of cars was streaming west on Highway 92 toward Half Moon Bay, past fruit stands, dinosaur sculptures and a sign advertising goat yoga at Lemos Farm.
Outside Dad’s Luncheonette, Nadia Khuzaie waited patiently to order a sandwich.
“I’ve been wanting to try this place a long time,” the Oakland resident said. “I just wanted to get out.”
The fact that the city had hastily announced Thursday it would shutter its beaches in an attempt to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus didn’t deter her or hundreds of others from venturing out.
Earlier in the week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said parking lots at state beaches in Southern California and the Bay Area would be closed in a bid to reduce traffic over the holiday weekend, after beach crowds on Memorial Day in May raised alarm among public health officials, who warned that having so many people in close proximity to each other could fuel the spread of the virus.
With the number of COVID-19 cases in California now surging north of 245,000 and deaths rising above 6,000, Newsom has cautioned in recent days against such crowded gatherings and also warned that the state could become more aggressive about enforcing public health orders such as mask wearing and social distancing requirements.
In Santa Cruz, however, beaches remained open. But turnout on the first day of the long weekend appeared light. Still, there was a stark difference in the number of people wearing masks between the privately run Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where masks are required to enter, and the rest of the oceanfront. North of the boardwalk, masks were scarce, and people lolled in the sand at city beaches in clusters and crowded onto volleyball courts.
“I can’t stand wearing a mask,” said Dwayne Crook, a tourist from Wisconsin who was visiting Santa Cruz with family members and said he didn’t feel unsafe without a face covering.
“Yeah, there’s a chance of contracting the virus,” he acknowledged. “Everything is a chance. Driving a car is a chance, life is a chance.”
Crook, a factory worker, said he has to wear a mask at work for 10 hours a day and hates it. Nothing, he said, was going to compel him to wear one on vacation, out in the fresh air.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo chided residents after a photo of a packed Santana Row on Thursday night surfaced on Twitter.
“Friends, we cannot prevail over (the) coronavirus pandemic if we’re taking risks like this,” Liccardo said. “Let’s all take individual responsibility for not imposing unacceptable health risks on others and ourselves.”
But by Friday afternoon, Santana Row was bustling again, as hundreds of people got ready for the weekend by shopping and dining out. Restaurants were doing big business, with people packing outdoor dining areas. Every table at Yard House was full of folks enjoying the restaurant’s mammoth draft-beer selection and an array of burgers, nachos and other dishes. Many diners weren’t wearing masks, but they could be seen virtually everywhere else.
Shoppers, including a sizable crowd outside of the popular Lululemon store, seemed to be trying to give each other space and follow recommended social distancing protocol despite the crowds.
People and vendors also dotted the shoreline at Lake Merritt in Oakland, picnicking and enjoying the sun. But even at mid-afternoon, there was plenty of space to find a spot on the grass a safe distance from other people.
The Half Moon Bay beach closures didn’t stop Tamara and Jon Cogan, of Redwood City, from a seaside stroll. The pair managed an early morning walk along the sand undisturbed.
But visitors seeking access to the beach a couple of hours later weren’t so lucky.
Those approaching the entrance to Half Moon Bay State Beach found their path blocked by orange cones and signage warning people not to proceed. Still, several cars blew through the barricade, and a steady flow of optimistic walkers, bicyclists and rollerbladers streamed toward the beach — only to be met by stern but friendly city staff turning people around.
“We do want people to come to our beaches, just not this weekend,” said Victor Gaitan, a management analyst for the city, standing outside a temporary pop-up tent near an empty parking lot.
Despite sheriff’s officers patrolling the sand on ATVs and other officials riding bikes along the coastline in search of scofflaws, a few beachgoers made their way down to the ocean through unmonitored pathways, only to be spotted and run off in a game of whack-a-mole that appeared to be heating up as the temperature rose.
Matt Quick was willing to chance a citation. The Baltimore, Maryland, resident had spent days driving west after losing his job in the food service industry and just wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before heading home.
“Bit of a disappointment,” Quick said of being ushered off the beach after snapping a quick photo. “I didn’t know it would be like this.”
Bay Area News Group staff writer Nico Savidge contributed to this report.