North County’s coastal cities, including Carlsbad, Del Mar and Encinitas, have closed city beaches, recreational parks and golf courses. But in the northern corner of the county, Oceanside appears to be the holdout: Its beaches, parks and golf courses remain open.
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered immediate closures of state public park and beach parking lots to promote social distancing and limit the spread of coronavirus. Oceanside officials closed beach parking lots and city playgrounds on Monday.
Terry Gorman Brown, a spokeswoman from the Oceanside city manager’s office, wrote Wednesday that Oceanside is following the lead of state beaches: hard closures of lots and soft closures of beaches.
“Many people are following social distancing orders, but that can be difficult to maintain when there are large numbers of people at the beach taking a walk,” Brown wrote in an email Monday. “People may still visit the beach, but need to maintain their distance from others.”
Brown wrote that the city has patrols monitoring its beaches for lack of adherence to the physical distancing rules, lifeguards are also doing announcements and that “E-signs” are in place.
She said that could change.
In a press release Monday afternoon, the city said it would revisit whether to keep golf courses open if new guidance was issued by the state or county regarding outdoor recreation areas.
Some Oceanside residents said they are concerned that people will still congregate at the city’s parks and beaches particularly because they’re the only ones open in North County. Others are fine with city beaches staying open as long as people aren’t congregating in groups.
Heidi Dorsey, a mom of four teenagers, is originally from Carlsbad, but has lived in Oceanside for 10 years. Dorsey said she’s concerned Oceanside hasn’t followed Carlsbad’s decision to close its beaches, parks and hiking trails.
Carlsbad was the first city in North County to close its beaches on Monday.
“Due to the number of people continuing to gather at city parks, trails and beaches, the city of Carlsbad announced it will temporarily close these public areas starting March 23 to help slow the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease,” the city wrote in a release.
Dorsey said she said she’s disappointed in Oceanside’s decision to keep beaches open and feels officials are not doing their job or taking responsibility for what’s going on. She said she’s especially worried about teenagers, like her two nephews, who hang out around the beaches in downtown Oceanside congregating and potentially spreading the virus to others.
“If beaches aren’t closed then whoever’s hanging out there is spreading it elsewhere at grocery stores and everywhere else,” she said. “Everyone else is closing beaches and parks and we need to follow suit.”
Lisa Skyles, an Oceanside resident, said she’s not really concerned about the beaches being open for surfing or people walking and keeping a distance.
“I’m more concerned about people gathering. I do, though, think that we’d get through this a lot faster if people stayed home as much as possible,” she said.
The Oceanside Police Department was ordered to keep an eye on large groups of 10 or more people gathering and is taking an adviser approach with the soft closures, said Tom Bussey, a spokesman for the department.
“We do drive by beaches and parks. We’ll tell people not to gather in groups. Life’s tough enough as it is without going out and writing people a bunch of tickets,” Bussey said. He said there aren’t many groups congregating in Oceanside now.
On Monday, Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said the county amended its order on outdoor closures to allow individual cities and municipalities to close city parks and beaches if they cannot enforce order after crowds filled those outdoor spaces.
“Government entities shall enforce social distancing requirements at all beaches and parks; if a government entity is unable to enforce social distancing at a beach or park, it shall be closed to the public,” the amended order reads.
In response to the county’s directive, Oceanside city manager Deanna Lorsen wrote that officials will be monitoring the situation and will take further action if needed. Lorsen said the city placed three portable message boards on its beaches and smaller signs advising the public to maintain social distancing.
Oceanside Councilwoman Esther Sanchez urged residents to comply with the signs in a Facebook message Wednesday: “Signage has been placed on our beaches – beaches subject to closure should 6 foot social distancing directives continue to be violated. Please comply!”
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear wrote in an email Wednesday that Encinitas’ decision to close its beaches was bigger than the city itself.
“Carlsbad, Del Mar, Solana Beach and the city of San Diego have also closed their beaches. So if ours were the only beaches remaining open during this pandemic, you can imagine the overcrowding that would create,” Blakespear wrote.