Thousands flock to North Bay beaches and parks, heedless of health protocols
Motorists exiting Highway 1 to get to Doran Beach got some bad news Saturday afternoon.
The parking lots at Doran Regional Park were full, signs along the road announced. At the entrance, ranger Gabe Lindeman confirmed that the crowd at the beach was highly unusual for a Saturday in March.
“This is not typical,” said Lindeman, who allowed that he could tell “people have been cooped up, forced from their routines. They seem really happy to be here.”
Spitting in the eye of a pandemic, taking advantage of provisions in Sonoma County’s shelter-in-place order allowing people to use the region’s parks and open spaces, legions of sun-seekers headed to the coast. While those excursions provided sorely needed fresh air and recreation for people weary of life in the shadow of a frightening disease, some of them helped facilitate, arguably, the spread of those very microbes.
So delighted were many beach goers to escape their homes and apartments, they made no effort to stay six feet from one another.
Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s interim health officer, frowns on such pilgrimages because they violate the spirit of the shelter-in-place rule. Family walks in the neighborhood or to a local park, short outings with the dog, are meant to give residents brief relief from being confined at home, she said.
“We recommend limiting outdoor activity to staying close to home,” she said. “We don’t expect people to be driving 20 miles to go to a beach.”
Admonishing the state’s young people “still out there on the beaches thinking it’s time to party,” California Governor Gavin Newsom told them Saturday that “it’s time to grow up, time to wake up.”
Failing to heed such recommendations, thousands of people flocked to sandy expanses from Jenner’s Goat Rock Beach to Dillon Beach, 25 miles south. Schoolhouse Beach, Shell Beach, Salmon Creek Beach — all were crowded, some inundated.
Bodega Bay itself was “overwhelmed,” with visitors according to Patty Ginochio, to whom locals refer as the “virtual mayor” of that town.
The crowds in the North Bay’s parks — not just those along the coast — and the profusion of people failing to practice proper social distancing, is a problem that has definitely snagged the attention of Sonoma County officials.
“We need to all be thinking about how do we distance ourselves from one another, especially from those not in our households,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County’s parks system, who spent the past three days observing behaviors in several of those parks.
What he saw left him “concerned,” he said. “Everyone needs to do their part and stay six feet apart.”
That rule was flouted countless times Saturday, according to Ginochio, who points out that residents of Bodega Bay, many of them elderly “and in the high-risk” category, are endangered by the visitors swarming the town and its nearby beaches, where she witnessed “large gatherings with no social distancing.”
Crowds were, if anything, more intense at Dillon Beach, a privately owned property 15 miles south.
“No exaggeration,” said Lesley Slater, a year-round Dillon Beach resident, “it was like the Fouth of July.” The parking lot quickly filled, creating a line of cars that backed up several hundred yards to the Dillon Beach General Store. Slater witnessed crowds of people, some carrying open containers of alcohol, “not practicing anything remotely” like social distancing.