Beaches brace for Memorial Day weekend crowds amid pandemic

Posted at 9:13 AM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 11:13:50-04

Beaches in many parts of the country will be open for the long Memorial Day weekend, despite the dangers from the coronavirus. But rules vary widely from state to state.

In California, many beaches have already reopened, and pictures appear to show some beachgoers bending social distancing guidelines. New York will cap beach capacity at 50% and local governments will require and enforce mask use when social distancing is not possible.

Every coastal state aside from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire will have at least some of their shores open to residents by Friday.

New Jersey school teacher Kelly McEvoy picked up her summer beach tags but remains skeptical on how social distancing will work.

"It's been really crowded and a lot of people without masks, so it does make me a little nervous," she told CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

In one southern New Jersey county, volunteers called social distance ambassadors will patrol high-traffic areas to remind people to stay six feet apart.

"It's becoming safer for us to dip our toes back into the water, in this case literally," said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

Murphy said encouraging COVID-19 numbers are driving his decision to reopen — but the economic numbers are anything but.

One report says the state's shore tourism generated more than $7 billion in 2018, but more than 1 million people in New Jersey have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. And in April, the state saw a loss of more than 236,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector.

"We really don't know what to expect right now," said Asbury Park beach safety supervisor Joe Bongiovanni, who has been working this coast for 50 years. "Most of the beaches are limiting their capacities. You know, we're in the same boat, so we can follow our social distancing rules, and we'll just have to play it by ear."

Bongiovanni said they're "not going to allow" the crowds that have been seen on beaches in other states.

"We're going to have what we call social monitoring. People walking around to remind people that they should be separated. We're not going to kick them off the beach or have them arrested or anything like that. We'll just strongly advise them against it," he said.

The lifeguards are dealing with the changes too. They will be required to undergo temperature checks and wear masks. In the event of a rescue, they're allowed to do chest compressions, but they can't do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.