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Ventura County beaches will be closed for the 4th of July weekend in response to surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, county health officials said Tuesday.

Beaches, their parking lots and restrooms will close from Friday through Monday to discourage gatherings that could lead to spread on the novel coronavirus, public health officials said in a news release.

“Visiting family and friends still presents a risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Public Health Director Rigo Vargas. “We know people are eager to go out, but we need to remind you on the importance of being safe and protecting yourself and others. Please only gather with the people that you live with. Your actions can help save lives.”

The announcement comes a day after the county said it would allow certain brewpubs, breweries, bars, wineries and distilleries to remain open if they complied with state safety guidelines.

According to a Monday news release, businesses that would have been subject to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close bars and nightclubs — those that serve alcoholic drinks without serving food at the same time — never reopened in the county.

“Please use extreme caution as COVID-19 is still prevalent in our county,” public health officer Robert Levin said. “You are much more likely to run into someone who has no symptoms but is positive if you gather with others.”

California Alejandra Reyes-Velarde

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Alejandra Reyes-Velarde is a Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Previously she wrote for the San Francisco Business Times and the Sacramento Bee. A UCLA graduate, she is originally from Duarte, Calif., and is a native Spanish speaker.

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Music teacher linked to semen-tainted flutes pleads guilty to child pornography charges

A music teacher accused of giving semen-tainted flutes to elementary school students has agreed to plead guilty to state and federal charges involving various sex crimes against children, authorities said Wednesday.

John Edward Zeretzke, 61, of Ventura agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of production of child pornography, along with six state counts of lewd or lascivious acts with minors under 14 years of age.

Zeretzke pleaded not guilty to the state charges in April 2019. The Orange County Register reported that state attorneys accused Zeretzke of recording himself ejaculating into flutes that were then distributed to five girls at elementary schools across Los Angeles and Orange counties; he then took photos of the girls using the flutes. Court records show the alleged violations occurred between January and April 2017.

Federal charges brought against Zeretzke in June 2018 included five counts of sex crimes against children. The Times reported in September 2018 that none of the victims involved in the federal charges are local.

As part of the plea deal, the Central District of California agreed to dismiss all but one of the federal counts. Those dismissed charges may still be considered when Zeretzke is sentenced.

Zeretzke’s lawyer, federal defense attorney Julia Brett Deixler, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The plea agreement obtained by The Times details the federal charge to which Zeretzke agreed to plead guilty.

Between December 2016 and February 2017, the agreement says, Zeretzke communicated with a girl under 16, expressing romantic interested in her. He sent money to her via relatives in the Philippines and asked for sexually explicit images of her. He also used his computer to capture sexually explicit images of her during a video chat.

Schools across the state opened their doors to Zeretzke for years as he taught music lessons to thousands of children. For more than 30 years, Zeretzke was a teaching artist for the Music Center of Los Angeles, during which he would share music lessons with students. The Times described one such lesson in 1998.

In 2009, Zeretzke founded Flutes Across the World, a nonprofit through which he contracted with schools to help children craft and decorate PVC pipe flutes. The nonprofit also participated in mission trips to share music lessons in countries such as Haiti, Honduras and the Philippines.

Schoolchildren participating in the program would make two flutes: one for themselves and one for a child in need. In the latter, students would stuff kind messages to share with overseas peers. In 2017, officials warned parents in seven California school districts of the potential contamination of flutes received by their children.

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Jake Sheridan is a 2020 summer intern with Metro. Originally from Charlotte, he is a rising senior at Duke University studying political science, where he serves as features editor for the Duke Chronicle and reports for the 9th Street Journal. He previously reported for the Concord Monitor.

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