After Santa Cruz County Health Officer Gail Newel announced she is closing parks, beaches and open spaces countywide starting Wednesday at 11:59pm to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Sheriff Jim Hart said law enforcement personnel will start strictly enforcing the temporary restrictions.
“We don’t want people in the water, we don’t want people in the parks, we don’t want people in the open spaces or the state parks,” Hart told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. “And if people make the decision to go ahead and do those types of activities I have described, they are going to get a citation. And the fine is going to be up to $1,000 each time they do that.”
Newel issued a countywide shelter-in-place order on March 16, which mandated social distancing measures but allowed access to beaches and state parks. But Hart said that some people have flouted the rules by holding beach parties and other prohibited activities.
Newel said at a Thursday morning press conference that she intends to lift the closures of parks, beaches and open spaces after one week, although she indicated that she may keep closed some high-use areas such as dog parks where many people were congregating.
Newel was not as optimistic about lifting the broader shelter-in-place order, which limits outdoor activities. The order is currently in effect through May 3.
“It’s going to be a while before we lift the order,” she said.
Hart said that sheriff’s deputies have issued more than 80 citations in the past few days for violating the order. He had been pushing for stricter rules in advance of Easter weekend, he said, which typically draws scores of tourists to the county.
“We’re going to enforce this order, and what we want is our own community members to stay home,” he said. “What we don’t want is people from other communities to come to Santa Cruz County.”
Hart acknowledged that the new restrictions might be hard for some to swallow. But he said that slowing the spread of the coronavirus will take sacrifices from everyone. This includes family members who cannot see each other, student athletes who cannot play the sports they love and seniors who will not have a graduation ceremony or prom.
“All we’re asking people to do is stay inside, shelter in place, not surf, not golf, not do those things,” he said. “It’s really a small sacrifice compared to what some of our other community members have given up during this really awful time.”
Hart said that his department has spent more than a week warning people they encountered that the order would be enforced, and he said that 98-99% of county residents have heeded the advice. But it was those who have not, he said, that caused the increased rules.
“This is really what this supplemental order is about,” he said. “Those 1% or 2% who aren’t willing to sacrifice or give anything up during this worldwide pandemic.”