SAN DIEGO — George Cruz relaxed at an outdoor beach restaurant as a waitress wearing a face covering rushed by, carrying a tray with a Pina Colada in a pineapple-shaped cup. An employee in a face covering stood nearby with cleaning supplies in his gloved hand, ready to sanitize any empty tables.
The odd mix of pumping music, cocktails and health precautions did not seem to deter anyone. Beach House Grill — known for its ocean views and fire pits — was already filling up on a sunny afternoon less than 24 hours after San Diego County was given permission by the state to allow dine-in restaurant service.
“That’s why we decided to come now,” said the engineer who was dining with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. “There definitely will be a surplus of people at the beach,” adding that they will be staying home. “I just hope everybody is smart about how they go out.”
Millions of Californians are heading into the Memorial Day weekend with both excitement and anxiety after restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus were eased across much of the state. The coinciding factors are sure to test the nation’s most populous state, which has just started seeing a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to relax more restrictions soon. He said he would issue guidance Monday for how to restore in-person religious services safely and was working toward the reopening of hair and nail salons.
But he added caution is still needed. Speaking from a veteran’s home Friday who lived through second and third waves of outbreaks during the 1918 flu pandemic, Newsom warned people not to be fooled “just because the sun has come up and there’s a sense of optimism, that there’s more light.”
“There’s also another reality that is stubborn, and that is the virulence of this disease remains and lives are continuing to be lost,” he said.
Others, like Joshua Tree National Park, which re-opened this week, were bracing for the anticipated wave of adventure-starved hikers and campers.
Police also will be assisting San Diego lifeguards. At an already busy Mission Beach ahead of the weekend, a lifeguard over a loudspeaker warned people that the boardwalk was closed and to keep moving to the beach where only walking and jogging are permitted. The ocean is open too, he said.
Until now, “it felt almost like we would not be going back to normal,” she said.
Restaurants were scrambling to space apart tables — including some eateries without patios that were creating alfresco dining in their parking lots.
In San Francisco, city officials drew large chalk “social distancing” circles on the grass at parks to show people where to sit. Dolores Park has seen large masses of people on sunny weekends, prompting Mayor London Breed to warn that she would shut it down if people weren’t more responsible.
David Spatafore, who owns Blue Bridge Hospitality restaurant group, said the social distancing floor decals arrived just in time for San Diego’s Liberty Public Market. It reopened patio seating Friday.
The sprawling market with 30 vendors, including wine bars, bakeries and taco stands, has been doing takeout. But now people can browse its shops selling locally made art, jewelry, and clothing.
“I think people are going to be so happy to be able to go back out and not eat out of a plastic container or cardboard box,” he said. “I know I am. I’m over the compost-able clam shell.”
Spatafore ordered head-scan thermometers to check employees’ temperatures weeks ago and was happy he did because there are shortages now. He hooked up with local brewers that have started producing hand-sanitizer to stock up.
“Hopefully people will self-police,” he said.
Associated Press writers John Antczak and Frank Baker in Los Angeles and Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this report.