Too many people flocked to state parks amid coronavirus. Now they might be closed.
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds his son Dutch while giving his address at his inauguration in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Californians were evidently feeling a bit of cabin fever this weekend when many rushed to local beaches and parks to stretch their legs days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new “stay at home” order.

The order aims to get residents to stay inside except for specific, essential tasks and exercise. When outside, state officials have asked that residents stay at least 6 feet from anyone they don’t live with to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

But many state parks saw record visitation over the weekend, according to a news release Monday by California State Parks. The parks’ popularity “made it impossible for the public to implement appropriate social distancing practices,” the statement said.

Newsom addressed the issue Monday during an update about the state’s progress in preparing for a projected influx of infections across the state. Normally, visions of tens of thousands of residents at the state’s parks would “light up my heart,” Newsom said.

But that is not the case while the disease rapidly spreads throughout California.

“When you are out there and you cannot even find parking at a beach, it suggests you are not going to practice social distancing and it may suggest you may want to find a new location,” Newsom said. “But to make it easier for you, we’re going to shut down all state parking lots and that will begin effective immediately.”

The California State Parks Department announced Monday that parking lots will be closed at many state parks locations. The agency has outlined the closures on its website.

Plus, state park peace officers will be on patrol to enforce social distancing.

Specifically, the agency is asking people not to “congregate in the outdoors,” adding that “if visitors cannot maintain social distancing, they need to leave the park.”

If the changes announced Monday don’t improve social distancing and safety, the agency said it would consider fully closing park trails, bathrooms and other amenities — likely what Newsom was talking about Monday during a live stream when he called parking lot closures “soft closures” — but alluded to some future “hard closures.”

“I don’t want to close big, beautiful open spaces, not when we are encouraging people to go outside with intention and purpose — not to linger — but to deal with the health needs we all have of being outdoors and taking a deep breath,” Newsom said. “We want to create a forum for that, but we can’t see what we saw over the weekend happen again.”

Santa Clara County last week announced it would waive entrance fees in county parks during the stay-home order.

“Folks are coping with a lot right now,” Supervisor Joe Simitian said in a memo last week. “It just seemed to me that our county should be doing whatever we can, no matter how small, to make people’s lives a little bit easier.”

City parks in San Jose and Santa Clara have remained open in a limited capacity. Playgrounds and special programming have been shut down in both cities in an effort to discourage people from being in close proximity to each other.

Newsom has bluntly shared projections by the state for how hard California could be hit by the novel coronavirus. The bottom line has been that the state does not have enough resources, workers or hospital beds to deal with the projected hospitalization needs the state could face in the next eight weeks.

On Monday, the state raised its projection for hospital needs to 125,000 beds, meaning the state must find about 50,000 additional beds from what exist across California currently.

About 30,000 of those are going to be found in and around existing hospitals, including potentially in parking lots. Others will be set up in convention centers — like one being set up at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The state has procured three hospitals and is leasing hotel and motel rooms for homeless people who must be isolated and for potential hospital overflow.

Meanwhile, the federal government has started deploying mobile hospitals and the Navy’s Mercy hospital ship to Southern California.

The state is also looking to privately procure protective supplies for medical personnel, including 1 billion pairs of gloves and 500,000 masks and face shields, Newsom said. The medical supply need projections assume residents abide by the “stay at home” order, Newsom stressed.

If Californians do not take those precautions, he said, the number of people needing hospitalization could be higher.

“In order to meet this moment we need to improve our behaviors — all of us,” he said. “The young and healthy have a unique obligation to the seniors to keep them safe and you keep them safe by practicing safe social distancing. And you can’t do that at a pick-up basketball game.”

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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