By Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill
Newport Beach has always shown resilience in the face of adversity. We would expect nothing less from a city that started as a maze of mud flats, sand bars, sand islands, and swamps that then turned into a shining city on a hill. That transformation required a century of grit, determination, vision, and core values.
We are facing this new and serious pandemic challenge with the same determination. To date, the County of Orange has 1,016 confirmed cases with a total of 17 deaths. While those numbers will rise, public health experts appear to be saying that these numbers are far less than the original projections because the vast majority of people have adopted the health experts’ orders and guidance to be safer at home and are practicing six feet of social distancing when outside.
As a father of two children under the age of eight and a business owner, I recognize the difficulty and hardships that many of our residents are enduring.
Living in a Country that was founded on freedom, it is not natural for the government to tell parents they cannot go to work, to tell children they cannot see their friends at school, and to tell families they cannot attend houses of worship. To make matters more difficult, all of this is being asked while anticipating the devastating impacts to our economy and the social capital of our communities.
Needless to say, our lives have been turned upside down over the last month and we have all been asked to make many uncomfortable sacrifices that do not come naturally for Americans. As your Mayor, I want you to know our city recognizes the sacrifices that you are making and to each and every one of you, I say thank you.
Thank you to our health care providers at Hoag Hospital, our many urgent care locations, and our primary care physicians and nurses who go to work day-in and day-out with a sense of purpose. Like our first responders in our police and fire departments, this is yet another reminder that heroes don’t wear capes.
Thank you to our grocery store workers who supply our community with provisions that allow them to be safer at home. Thank you for opening up early for our seniors who need supplies and clean shelves and carts.
Thank you to our City staff, many of whom have been working seven days a week to respond to this pandemic. Over the past century, Newport Beach has been built to welcome people in rather than recommending that they come back when we are on the other side of a local emergency. Reversing this century-old planning in two weeks has put an unprecedented strain on City resources. Fortunately, we have long-standing stability at our department head positions that has led to efficient decision-making and institutional knowledge about what is and what is not possible.
For example, we closed our OASIS Senior Center and libraries early in this process. Our OASIS staff remains vigilant to support our community’s seniors. If you are a senior reading this and need non-emergency help, then please call our OASIS staff at 949-644-3244. Our libraries remain closed, but a new program is in place for curbside pickup of books. I encourage you to go to our library’s website for a full explanation of how the program works. And please do go to the City’s website devoted to our specific responses to this pandemic at www.newportbeachca.gov/covid19 where you can sign up for email updates.
Our staff’s efficiency can also be seen in response to areas in our city where folks violate the social distancing guidelines. As a reminder, the State Parks have recommended that you do the following when you go outside for exercise and mental wellness:
(1) stay home if you are sick;
(2) stay close to home when you get outdoors. This is not the time for a road trip to a destination park or beach;
(3) venture out only with people in your immediate household;
(4) walk around the neighborhood and enjoy neighborhood parks;
(5) always maintain a physical distance of 6 feet or more when recreating in the outdoors. If you cannot maintain physical distancing, leave the park;
(6) do not congregate in parks.
There is plenty of literature about the health benefits of being outside in times of social isolation. The National Institute on Aging noted last year that research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
The California Coastal Commission recently issued guidance to coastal cities reminding us that “recreational beach and coastal access also play important roles in maintaining mental and emotional health, especially during times of stress,” qualified by “where recreational users are practicing safe social distancing.”
We have unfortunately seen people violating these social distancing guidelines over the past couple of weeks. To help people follow social distancing, the City has taken dramatic steps, including closures of playgrounds, fitness equipment, fields (baseball, soccer, multi-use), all courts (basketball, tennis, pickleball, handball and volleyball), the dog park, the piers, beach parking, the Peninsula boardwalk, much of Ocean Boulevard’s grass area, West Jetty Park, Goldenrod Bridge, the Buck Gully trail, and the Balboa Island boardwalk.
We must continue to monitor the numerous measures put in place to encourage social distancing throughout Newport Beach to both identify additional areas for restriction and also potentially reverse course if secondary effects make things worse.
Importantly, the City has been following health care agency orders and guidance from the State and County and will continue to do so. To date, neither the State nor the Orange County Health Agency has given additional instructions for Newport Beach to do that we are not already doing. I have asked our State Senator and our County Supervisor to check again.
We are in this together and we will get through this together.
Will O’Neill is Mayor of Newport Beach and can be reached at [email protected].