April 25, 2020 / 3:48 PM / a month ago

Beaches eyed as United States takes steps toward reopening

April 25 (Reuters) - Many Americans are expected to flock to beaches on Saturday as one Florida county relaxed restrictions and California braced for a heat wave, even as new cases of the novel coronavirus hit a record high the day before.

Volusia County, home to the famed Daytona Beach, opened lots at its coastal parks on Saturday to handicapped visitors, one step in a phased reopening that has so far limited its beaches to those wanting to walk, surf, bike or swim.

The step is warranted by the county’s successful efforts to suppress cases of the virus, George Recktenwald, the county manager, said at a briefing on Friday, although he likened the situation to tapping the brakes on a car going downhill.

“We are starting to let up that brake a little bit but you don’t want to do it too fast because you don’t want to speed out of control,” he said. “If you are on the beach you should be physically active. No sitting, sunbathing or hanging out with a cooler.”

A heat wave brought thousands of Californians to the open beaches in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach on Friday despite stay-at-home orders for people across the state, and similarly large crowds are expected on Saturday.

Governor Gavin Newsom said he expected the state’s beaches to see “a significant increase in volume” due to the very warm weekend, and pleaded for those who visit the shore to practice social distancing.

The move to enjoy the better weather comes after the United States on Friday recorded 36,491 new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, a record daily high, according to a Reuters tally.

More than 911,000 people in the United States have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 52,000 people have died, the tally shows.

Georgia, Oklahoma and some other states took tentative steps to reopen their economies on Friday, despite disapproval from President Donald Trump and warnings from health experts that such moves could rekindle the virus and cause more deaths.

Theo Walker, owner of Golden Anchor Tattoo in Atlanta, said he had put the question of whether to reopen to his artists and they voted yes. He has given them protective equipment and will open for business again on Saturday, after a “straightforward” first day back on Friday, although he had to turn away customers who tried to enter as a group.

“In an ideal world we would have loved to just wait at home until it’s all over, but unfortunately we all have bills that are waiting, and I did not want my artists to suffer anymore,” Walker said. “We all decided it was time to get back to work.”

Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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