Jersey Shore and many other U.S. beaches reopen for a Memorial Day like no other
Category: News & PoliticsVia: perrie-halpern • 4 months ago • 7 comments
By: Corky Siemaszko (NBC News)
In his song "Jersey Girl," Tom Waits famously sang, "Down on the shore everything's all right/ You with your baby on a Saturday night."
But when the Jersey Shore reopens for Memorial Day weekend with the coronavirus still stalking the state and the rest of the land, not everything will be as "all right" as it used to be.
"SOCIAL DISTANCE TODAY — START SPREADING THE NEWS" is the message Jersey Shore-bound masses will see on flashing billboards as they ford freeways that are expected to be packed. Once they reach their desired destinations, there will be more reminders that life on the shore is still a long way from normal.
No arcades. No rides. No concerts or special events. Closed playgrounds. Capacity limits on beaches. Long lines to use the few public bathrooms that will be open. Just takeout at most bars and restaurants. And drones flying overhead to help authorities monitor it all.
Police and other security will be out on the sand making sure people keep 6 feet apart, and lifeguards will blow the whistle on anyone who does not follow the new rules.
In some towns, like normally bustling Belmar, "ambassadors" like Katrina Clapsis will gently remind people starving for companionship after weeks in quarantine to continue giving each other at least 6 feet of space.
Will it work? "Time will tell," Clapsis told NBC News' Ron Allen.
The restrictive Memorial Day beach reopening on the Jersey Shore is also happening from coastal New England down below the Mason-Dixon Line on swaths of sand belonging to some of the states hit hardest by the pandemic.
Town of Hempstead Public Safety Officers monitor beachgoers on the first day that beaches were opened ahead of the Memorial Day weekend at Town Park at Point Lookout beach on Long Island, N.Y., on Friday.Andrew Kelly / Reuters
New York City beaches, however, remain closed. And many Long Island towns are limiting beach access to locals.
But the farther south you go, the fewer the restrictions in states like Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi, which reopened their beaches earlier. Other states like Florida largely left it up to local counties to decide whether to reopen and how. Most will be open Memorial Day.
Even there, things will be different.
People visit Clearwater Beach on Wednesday in Clearwater, Florida.Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images
Clearwater Beach, for example, got unwanted headlines in March when images of revelers frolicking during the pandemic were broadcast nationally — and after Gov. Ron DeSantis initially balked at banishing the throng from the beach.
This is also where the beach ambassador program — similar to the one Belmar, New Jersey, is using — was pioneered, Clearwater city spokeswoman Joelle Wiley said.
"We are supposed to keep it on for weekends through Labor Day," Wiley said. "It is civilian employees helping visitors with non-police matters and giving updates on how to pay for parking remote, how to use the countywide dashboard to monitor beach and parking lot capacity and to direct them to the temporary hand washing stations we have installed."
On the West Coast, many beaches in Washington state and Oregon remain closed for Memorial Day, while some farther south in California will be open but with restrictions.
Along the Great Lakes, most beaches in Michigan will be open. But the famed Oak Street Beach in Chicago, where swimmers can bathe with the city skyline as backdrop, is closed through May 31.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy gave the shore towns the green lightthis week to reopen, but he made it clear he wanted them to adhere to the state's social distancing guidelines. He also conceded that with New York City beaches closed, there could be increased competition for scarce sand space in Jersey.
"A trip to the beach is a treasured pastime for New Jerseyans on Memorial Day weekend, just as it is for residents in our neighboring states," Murphy said. "By aligning our social distancing policies for beaches, we can bring some semblance of a 'new normal' to our region ahead of the first weekend of the summer season."
But reaching the "new normal" might be difficult.
People queue to go to the Long Branch beach on the first day that New Jersey beaches were reopened ahead of the Memorial Day weekend on Friday.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters
Last Saturday in Belmar, dozens of people lined up before dawn on the boardwalk to buy seasonal beach passes after Murphy signaled that the towns could reopen the beaches for Memorial Day.
"It just opened the floodgates for everyone to come down and buy seasonal badges," Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer told NJ Advance Media. "It's not that we're selling more than last year. It just happened all at one time."
While most people tried to social distance, the jam-up of the boardwalk made avoiding contact with passersby difficult.
"It created a little problem for us," Walsifer said — so much so that badge sales in Belmar have been suspended until Tuesday.
Belmar officials have also removed all the benches from the boardwalk to keep people from congregating and all the bike racks to make more room for pedestrians. But there were still lots of people out and about, ignoring Murphy's request to wear masks.
Stewart Farrell, director of Stockton University's Coastal Research Center in South Jersey, said Murphy and the governors of the other New England and Mid-Atlantic states appear to be working in tandem and not taking their cues from governors like DeSantis or Brian Kemp in Georgia, who reopened their beaches earlier.
"I think they are all talking to each other and certainly not following the lead of Gov. Kemp or the governor of Florida, who seem to be coasting across the lake oblivious to the thunderclaps around them," Farrell said.
The Jersey Shore towns also appear to have decided on a similar "plan of attack." That includes limiting the number of beach tags sold and "spreading the lifeguards out so each has a fiefdom to watch over rather than being bunched up together in a tower," Farrell said.
Some towns have hired what Farrell called "insta-cops" who will be equipped with badges and radios to reinforce social distancing rules by "eliciting cooperation" from beachgoers.
"If they don't cooperate, they will radio the real police for help," Farrell said. "They're going to let family groups sit together. And there's already some social distancing going on. Nobody sits armpit to elbow unless it's really packed on the beach. And they're already making sure that happens by limiting the sale of beach tags."
Similar restrictions on summer fun will be in place up and down the Eastern Seaboard as residents seek relief from weeks of quarantine by hitting the sand and surf.
Massachusetts is doubling the social distancing requirements at the beach with a mandatory 12 feet of separation between blankets.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan left it up to the beach towns to decide when to reopen, and tourist mecca Ocean City did so on May 10. But Hogan warned strict social distancing is mandatory.
The same goes for the Delaware beaches, all of which will be open starting Saturday. But there's a catch: Delaware's mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors and its ban on short-term rentals remains in effect through May 31. So no beach for you unless you're a local or have already been in the state for two weeks.
The Maryland, Delaware and South Jersey beaches are favorite destinations for many Pennsylvanians. That state's governor, Tom Wolf, made it clear during a video news conference this week that he won't be hitting the sand anytime soon.
"I wouldn't go to the beach," Wolf said. "There are people there who aren't wearing masks, and you're putting yourself at risk. I wouldn't do that, I haven't done that, and I'm not sure why the governors of Maryland and New Jersey have opened their beaches, but they have."
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam gave beach towns the OK to reopen but warned he would reconsider "if people swarm the beaches."
"You must be responsible," he said.
Corky Siemaszko is a senior writer for NBC News Digital.