Thousands visit beaches as Southern California experiences heat wave amid coronavirus outbreak

Thousands of people poured onto beaches in Orange County over the weekend as Southern California experienced its first major heat wave of the year, even as officials continue to urge individuals to avoid mass gatherings and practice social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Photos and videos showed Huntington Beach and Newport Beach lined with crowds on Saturday. More than 40,000 people were estimated to have visited Newport Beach on Friday, The Associated Press reported.

The swarm of visitors came as beaches remained closed under stay-at-home orders in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Beaches operated by the state have also remained closed. 

Orange County reopened its beaches with modified restrictions for nearby areas. Parking lots and piers were reportedly closed to prevent an influx of out-of-town visitors. Ventura County, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, also reopened its beaches while keeping parking lots closed.

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The county also barred visitors from lounging or sunbathing, mandating that beachgoers "keep moving [while] walking, running, surfing and swimming."

Brian O'Rourke, a lifeguard battalion chief in Newport Beach, told NBC News on Saturday that lifeguards had not experienced many problems as they attempted to maintain social distancing requirements, though he noted that they were most focused on monitoring those in the water 

"It’s crowded out," O'Rourke said. "We haven’t had too many issues with [social distancing] as lifeguards. Our primary mission is watching the water. We’ve had dozens of ocean rescues and hundreds of preventative actions."

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California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia's reported decline in infection rate may not be accurate, official says California: Dual threats of wildfire and COVID-19 underscore need for prevention The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Progress slow on coronavirus bill MORE (D) was one of the first state leaders to declare a stay-at-home order requiring residents to avoid nonessential travel and mass gatherings. In anticipation of rising temperatures last week, he urged residents to avoid leaving their hometowns to visit counties with less stringent restrictions. 

"I just caution you, if you're going to get in the car, make a long drive and expect to find parking to go to a closed beach, it is very unlikely," Newsom said, according to the Ventura County Star

As for parks and beaches that are open, Newsom urged people to "abide by social distancing."

Beaches in Los Angeles County remained empty on Saturday, according to photos shared by Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore. 

"My compliments to our community for staying away from the beaches in LA," Moore tweeted. "From Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, to Dockweiler - All Clear!! Safer at Home will get us there sooner."

California's health department has reported more than 41,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and roughly 1,650 deaths from it. 

Newsom said in a tweet last week that the state was "flattening the curve" of hospitalizations from the virus. But he stressed that it would continue only if residents continued to take social distancing requirements "seriously."

The governor has yet to issue any guidance on when California may begin lifting some of the restrictions in his stay-at-home order. 

Several U.S. states began relaxing some of the restrictions on beaches, parks and other nonessential businesses this month. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) allowed local officials to reopen public beach access. Some counties in northern Florida also reopened their beaches last week, prompting concern that officials weren't ensuring the public's safety.