LOS ANGELES (AP) — As 40 million Californians spend another weekend in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak, there are signs officials are beginning to lose patience with those who violate stay-at-home and social distancing orders designed to slow the spread of the infection.
Officials had said they want to rely on social pressure to make sure people don’t gather in large groups, stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart and only leave home to procure essentials such as food or medicine.
But San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore used stronger language when reminding people that state and local distancing measures aren’t just recommendations and that scofflaws could face misdemeanor charges carrying up to a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
“The days of trying to get voluntary compliance are over,” Gore said Thursday. “The message is going to go out to all of public safety here in the county that we will start issuing citations.”
Many beaches, parks and hiking trails around the state and most beach parking lots have been closed because they attracted large crowds.
On Thursday, a paddleboarder near the Malibu pier was taken into custody and cited for a misdemeanor after he allegedly ignored lifeguards’ orders to leave the water, authorities said.
“Stay home, shred later,” urged a message on the website of the Surfrider Foundation, a conservation group based in Southern California.
Mel Thoman told the Orange County Register that he’s stopped body surfing at the Wedge, a popular, often-crowded surfing spot in Newport Beach.
“I’d love to be out there,” she said. “It’s a health issue and it’s a serious one. I don’t think people get that.”
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office on Friday formed a special team of deputies to enforce the stay-at-home order at county beaches and parks.
In San Francisco, an 86-year-old man was cited for violating the safe-distancing order while leafleting.
There have been some 12,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus infections in California and some 280 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Reported cases continue to surge, in part because more people are being tested.
The coronavirus mainly is spread though coughs and sneezes. For most people, it 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 pneumonia and death.
Virus safety requirements have slowly tightened in recent weeks.
Beginning Saturday, it became mandatory in San Diego County for those who work with the general public at essential businesses such as grocery stores and gas stations to wear non-medical cloth face coverings.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said a similar order may be issued soon in his area.
In the meantime, LA is cracking down on so-called nonessential businesses that remain open in defiance of the city’s stay-at-home orders.
The city attorney’s office has charged four businesses — two smoke shops, a shoe store and an electronics store — with illegally staying open.
The mayor’s office said more than two dozen businesses have been referred to the city attorney for possible prosecution.
“We will find you, we will come after you,” Garcetti said.
Meanwhile, Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for Christians, and many churches will be streaming services online rather than holding public services.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles “is inviting the faithful to place a branch in their home on April 4 as a sign of welcoming Christ the King into their homes especially in this time of coronavirus pandemic,” a statement from the archdiocese said.
But some churches were being blamed for failing to practice safe distancing.
Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, in California’s agricultural Central Valley, sent the city a “cease and desist” letter after police entered the church last week during a service attended by about 30 people and the church intended to continue its services, attorney Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law & Policy told the Sacramento Bee.
Officers have posted a “notice of public nuisance” on the church’s main entrance, city spokesman Jeff Hood told the Bee.
In the Sacramento area, more than 70 members or people associated with members of the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church near Rancho Cordova have the COVID-19 virus, including the chief pastor, officials said.
The church closed on March 18 and moved services online but “we have been told by multiple sources that there are groups that continue to meet in homes,” Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson told the Sacramento Bee.
In an online statement, the church “disputes accusations that its members widely continued to gather as reported.”