Californians staying home for Easter amid Covid-19 outbreak

SAN FRANCISCO — With most parks shuttered at least for the holiday weekend, Northern Californians seemed to be abiding to the state’s shelter in place order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Easter/Passover weekend is the busiest of the year for the East Bay county parks system, which is why 10 of the most popular recreational destinations had their parking lots Saturday and Sunday shuttered to reduce the potential crowds.

Parks officials say people were doing a good job of social distancing once they are on the trails but it’s getting there that’s been a recurring weekend problem.

Health experts say California and the Bay Area as a whole were not seeing an extreme spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, partly due to the early success of social distancing. But that’s also what made it so crucial to halt the weekend rush to the outdoors.

“They want to get outside. They want to spend time with loved ones and friends. The weather is nice but the problem is that the virus is still circulating in the population,” said Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley.

Across the San Francisco Bay Area, law enforcement officers were ready to hand out citations and stiff fines for violating the shelter in place orders.

That was the case in Santa Cruz Friday night when police handed out $1,000 fine to seven people who drove from Fremont to the coastal city and gathered outside a 7-Eleven store.

“If you are not from Santa Cruz and you put our community at risk, you will get a ticket,” warned Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills on Twitter.

“California has made significant progress bending the curve, but going out this weekend could ruin it all,” Gov. Gavin Newsom warned in an Instragram video message with actor Dwayne Johnson. “The biggest, most difficult thing, we talk about people staying at home, is to remind them that they’re not alone.”

California has nearly 21,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 600 deaths, according to data released Saturday by Johns Hopkins University. Those figures are far lower than New York, where the infections have been most prevalent and deadly.

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 life-threatening pneumonia.

Major police departments said residents mostly seemed to be heeding the message, with closures being enforced from sunny beaches to snowy ski areas.

“That reward is knowing that people aren’t dying,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday as he ordered all parks closed from Saturday evening through Monday morning.

“It looks like we’re doing well. I haven’t heard of any arrests or disturbances,” said Officer Rosario Cervantes, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also reported no major incidents by mid-day.

“We’re seeing that working out very well for us, very few people calling to complain that a business is open or people are gathered,” said San Diego Police Sgt. Edward Zwibel. “And we’ve found that when we do get a complaint, people respond very well to education.”

A tragic exception was a shooting at a large party in a Bakersfield apartment complex early Saturday. Six people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and authorities are still searching for four suspects. Kern County sheriff’s Lt. Cesa Ollague said the party might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

In Sacramento County, sheriff’s Sgt. Tess Deterding said deputies haven’t had to step in at all since restrictions were put in place weeks ago.

“The fact that it’s a holiday weekend isn’t changing the way we’re operating. We continue to be kind of a last resort behind Public Health,” she said. “We have not had to use that hammer, so to speak.”

But to the north, the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department warned that deputies “will be transitioning from an educational approach, to enforcement” as restrictions tightened while the weather warms.

“If you were told that you could save a child who was undergoing cancer treatment by practicing social distancing for a few months or that you could keep a loved one on this earth for another year, two years, or 10 years by doing the same, would you? That is what we are asking,” Sheriff Wendell Anderson said in an online message Friday defending the policy change.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, no-parking areas have been set up around Marin County parks after visitors kept showing up to walk trails, clogging the roads with cars. Scofflaws could face $100 fines.

The city of Oakland went so far as to shut down 74 miles (119 kilometers) of streets — 10% of the total — to vehicles beginning Saturday to create more space for people to get outside for exercise. Overcast skies may have kept residents from pouring into the streets. There were mostly families pushing strollers and cyclists scattered at the city’s north end Saturday afternoon.

The nonprofit Center for American Liberty said officials in Southern California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties agreed to allow drive-in religious services that practice social distancing after the group threatened to sue on behalf of religious congregants and organizations.

The center’s chief executive, Harmeet Dhillon, who also is a prominent Republican Party official, called the accommodation “a significant improvement” but argued that “it is both arbitrary and unconstitutional for government to deem liquor stores and pot dispensaries ‘essential’” while shuttering religious institutions.

Many churches and synagogues planned to stream their Passover and Easter services online.

The state’s governor said in the video released Saturday in lieu of his normal noontime briefing that Easter is one of his four children’s favorite holidays. But he said Californians cannot use cabin fever and beautiful spring weather as excuses to break social distancing norms.

“Let’s continue to hold the line,” Newsom urged.