New York City’s beaches will not be open by Memorial Day weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.
The beaches will remain open for walking or sitting, but no groups will be able to congregate on the shores.
“We didn’t make this decision lightly and we are watching the indicators. We will be smart and careful about this. We are taking it a week and even a day at a time. So maybe later in the summer we will open, but we are not ready yet,” de Blasio said.
The mayor warned, however, that if New Yorkers fail to comply with social distancing regulations, stricter action will be taken to block the beaches off to the public — including erecting 14 miles of fence along the waterfront, if necessary.
“We are always putting health and safety first and even though it is beautiful weather, we will be smart about what we allow and don’t allow,” the mayor said.
COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the city, but de Blasio made clear at his Sunday press conference that no one wants a resurgence of the virus that would force more draconian measures to be implemented.
“We are the epicenter of the crisis, and opening the beaches for Memorial Day is not the right or safe thing to do,” he said.
The city is now training lifeguards for when the beaches do open to swimming, but added measures would have to be taken to assure continued social distancing.
Currently, there were 77 people admitted to hospitals in the city for COVID-19 on May 15; there are now 469 people in ICUs compared to 506 on May 14.
To enforce the rules, the NYPD has partially restored the special police detail to Coney Island Beaches as a result of demand and requests from elected officials, but will resist giving summonses, officials privately say. Instead, they and Parks Enforcement Officers will distribute masks to the public and encourage safe practices.
Normally, 150 officers are assigned to beach detail for Memorial Day, but instead, sources say only 50 will be assigned to augment precinct personnel at the beaches throughout the city to save money.
Their numbers have been increased by hundreds of school safety agents who are now assigned to parks and beaches because schools are closed. Officers were already involved in one water rescue, and a safety agent was bitten by a dog on Saturday.
Some police officers privately expressed concern that unarmed school safety officers would be ill-equipped to deal with large gatherings and potentially armed gangs that are expected to descend upon waterfront communities. Gang-related violence has been spiking throughout the city and account for the rise in homicides.
Social distancing and gatherings are still banned in New York state, but how people interpret that and how it’s enforced are spotty at best.
With Memorial Day a week away, the Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk were still busy on Saturday, with most people maintaining social distance on the beaches. Some people disregarded the gathering guidelines on the boardwalk.
A few boardwalk concessions were open for takeout, though in some cases, social distancing in the lines was disregarded.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park opened two food concessions, with restrictions on the lines and every employee wearing masks and gloves. Deno’s Sweetshop within the amusement park opened this week, gates allowing for long lines to socially distance safely.
Ruby’s bar was serving beer for takeout and Nathan’s opened their food concession on the boardwalk. Several other concessions were preparing to open for takeout, including Tom’s on Stillwell Avenue.
Tony Scotto, an operator of the Wonder Wheel, was happy that at least concessions were able to do business, but he wants to see more.
Scotto says the city should allow them to reopen the 150-foot Wonder Wheel, which has been giving a vista view of the city since 1920 and designated a landmark in 1989.
“Here’s a message to Mayor de Blasio: Stop putting everybody out of business. You’re hurting people and taking food off people’s tables,” Scotto said. “I’m sorry for the people who are sick and dying, but the thing is they should open up with regulation. People should wash their hands and wear masks. If people are sick they shouldn’t come here. People should have the choice of opening up. If people are afraid to come to a park, they should stay home. Let’s say you are the owner and you don’t want to open up because you might get sick — that should be a choice. This is America.”
Visitors were sitting on the beach, mostly together with families, with some small groups of friends sitting or in some cases, playing volleyball between themselves.
Junior Jablee, originally from Brazil, sat with his family on the beach and said he wasn’t too worried.
“We are sitting away from other people and we are on a beach. There is ultraviolet light from the sun and they say it kills COVID,” he said. “We are enjoying the cool air and everything is just fine here.”
“We are just keeping to ourselves. Is it the smartest idea? I don’t know, but we had to get out,” said Aaron Collins of Brighton Beach, who went swimming in the shallows with his friend’s daughter, Alexia Greve, 7.
“It’s awesome,” the young Alexia Greve, a resident of Astoria, Queens, said after a quick dip in the still cold waters.
People were playing music on the boardwalk, some dancing, but maintaining distance and wearing their masks.
“We are wearing our masks. We are trying to stay away from one another and we are out here in the ocean air,” said Alan Mounde of Coney Island. “I just can’t stay inside anymore.”
This story first appeared on amny.com.