No gatherings of any kind were allowed on Moonlight Beach in April of 2020 -- The Encinitas beach just one of hundreds along the California coast that experienced strict restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But a lot can change in a year – and it has.
As San Diego enters its first weekend under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s newly eased mask guidelines, more people felt comfortable soaking in the promising news along the water’s edge on one of the hottest days the city has had so far.
The guidance, announced earlier this week, says it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to go unmasked to small outdoor gatherings, but warns to wear a mask when in large crowds.
Moonlight Beach’s playground and volleyball court, once roped off with caution tape, buzzed with activity Friday, while beach bums, surfers and sun worshippers returned to their elements like no time had passed at all.
The step means a lot to residents like Susan Gallego, a childcare worker who became fully vaccinated last month.
Gallego rode her bike to the beach Friday without a mask for the first time with her infant granddaughter.
“To be able to enjoy other people’s company without masks on -- it feels like we’re getting back to normal,” Gallego said.
Hella, an Encinitas resident, told NBC 7 she and her husband were drawn to the beach by the day’s warm temperatures and were eager to put the new mask guidance into practice.
“Today is a beautiful day so we came out, but it’s the first time we are not wearing a mask at the beach.”
But it’s not just locals embracing the change -- Michigan resident Dan Wells told NBC 7 he’s in San Diego with his wife to make up for lost time.
“We’re here to visit my son…last year we had our tickets all purchased ready to go in March, Covid hit and it delayed this trip for a year,” he said. “I’ll just spend as much time with my son as possible.”
The progress is personal for San Diego State University student Ailish Mills.
“I lived in place that was ground zero for Covid since day one…I had to move off campus because people were being too irresponsible,” Mills said. “I have my first shot but also have an autoimmune disorder, so having my shots gives me literally all my freedom…I’m really looking forward to getting back to in person classes.”
Vanessa Wyckoff is new to the area and told NBC 7 she’s relieved about this new step while optimistic about the progress still to be made.
“To be able to actually get to go out and meet people and make new friends is really exciting,” she said.
But some are proceeding with caution -- and hoping people are responsible enough to keep things moving in the right direction.
One beachgoer who preferred to not be identified told NBC 7, “There might be a lot of people taking advantage and not wearing their masks and it might spike the numbers again…we want to keep the numbers down and keep the hospital counts low so workers in hospitals don’t have crowded rooms again.”
NBC 7 also spoke with several non-vaccinated people who don’t fall under the new CDC mask guidelines. They said they plan to respect the space of those who are vaccinated and included in the new rules and plan to continue wearing a mask when appropriate until its safe for them not to.