SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County beaches will remain open over the Fourth of July weekend, according to Santa Barbara County Public Health.
Public Health leaders met Tuesday to discuss possible beach closures, but decided to instead keep the beaches open while adding extra enforcement to make sure groups are physically distancing.
Public Health director Van Do-Reynoso said that beaches will close if they become too crowded.
“Am I concerned about our increasing cases and the crowds? Yes of course,” she said. “And that’s why we are relying on partnerships with our cities, partnerships with our law enforcement, with our lifeguards, with our county Parks and Rec staff, to ensure that there is safety, safe social distancing possible… we want to make sure everyone is safe, but everyone enjoys the beach as well.”
Rising cases in Santa Barbara County are causing concern in the community. The county decided to close bars beginning Wednesday in order to slow the spread of the virus.
There are added concerns because Los Angeles and Ventura Counties decided this week to close their beaches for the holiday weekend, potentially leading to more visitors from those areas driving up to enjoy Santa Barbara County's beaches.
Do-Reynoso said she knows there will be visitors from outside of the county, but she encourages them to be responsible and follow COVID-19 health guidelines while they are visiting.
“We wanna make sure that everyone who goes to the beach can practice social distancing,” She said. “I think that that is our key message. We are not going to allow crowded beaches. So we will have messaging out at the beach that speaks to that, much like earlier—a few months ago when all the other beaches were closed we had signs up that said ‘If you see that the beach is crowded, please turn around. Please seek other places to enjoy.’”
A few months ago, closures in the L.A. area came before Easter weekend. Santa Barbara's beaches remained open and while some drew increased crowds, there was no major spike in local coronavirus cases.
Do-Reynoso was asked if her thinking is different in this case, because of the recent spike in local virus cases and generally more activity at the beach during the 4th of July compared to Easter.
"I'm a hopeful person," she said. "It's a partnership. We want to make sure members of our community have access to our beautiful beaches. And we are also encouraging and imploring that all members enjoy our beaches in a safe, responsible manner."
During its Tuesday meeting, Santa Barbara City Council added a motion to possibly close city beaches this weekend. But after a 3-3 vote with one member absent, the motion did not pass.
The city did decide Tuesday to ban barbecues, hammocks and tents at the beach this weekend.
Santa Barbara mayor Cathy Murillo says the city does not want people gathering en masse at local beaches, and those that do must be in groups of less than ten and only with members of their own household.
"The city has managed to keep the beaches open all this time," she said Tuesday. "We have firefighters, lifeguards and park rangers telling people to keep their social distance."
Murillo pointed out that most coronavirus transmission in the county has been found to be indoors among family members, or among co-workers in a workplace.
She also says, however, that people who are concerned should stay home or away from other people.
Do-Reynoso said that "ideally" all cities and communities in the county would be "lockstep" with the decision to keep beaches open, but that she can only speak for County Public Health's jurisdiction.