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Photo by Todd Maisel
Park workers in Rockaway prepare to close the beach and put up gates to keep the beaches from becoming a gathering point during Memorial Day weekend.

Park workers were dropping off portable metal gates Wednesday to close up the 14 miles of beaches throughout the city to prevent people from swimming and gathering this Memorial Day weekend in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to vow to close the beaches if they get too crowded, only allowing people to walk along the shore line and through the sand. In response, park employees have been erecting fencing around play and workout areas and dropping off metal barriers to close beach entrances. One workout area already had its fence torn down by visitors.

S0me municipalities have decided to reopen their beaches, with social distancing and ban on swimming where there are no lifeguards. On Long Island, some beaches have been designated “Nassau County residents only,” raising eyebrows among city leaders.

The mayor, however, said he understands.

“Every place must figure out whats right for themselves, but the fact is the state determined these are local decisions,” de Blasio said. “Based on our local conditions, we are the epicenter nationally, the most populace, the most dense. To get to the beaches people must take subways and buses and we don’t want crowding. There is an obvious set of reasons.”

De Blasio said he respects Nassau’s decision that he said will prevent their beaches from becoming too overcrowded.

“If that is what works for them, I respect that – everyone must set ground rules for themselves and there are obvious realities,” he said. “I think highly of (County Executive) Laura Curran – there are different needs of different places and it’s about safety first and we will do what is safe for people and it is not safe to open beaches.”

At Rockaway Beach at Beach 116th Street, park workers were unloading metal barriers for entrances. All were resigned to the decision.

“We have to close the beaches and its just really sad,” said one park worker. “But we also don’t want anyone else to die – we had a lot of people die out in Far Rockaway. So we will put up the fences.”

In Coney Island, food stands prepared to open for the Memorial Day weekend, projecting large crowds on the boardwalk. Tom’s of Coney Island will reopen on Friday for the first time. Ruby’s employees were erecting plexiglass dividers to protect workers from the public.

Nearby, Dennis Vourderis, owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, was busy performing maintenance on his food stands and preparing the park for opening once they’re cleared to do so; he’s hopeful that will happen in mid-June.

Keeping the beach closed right now, Vourderis said, is “the right decision.”

“I think the mayor is cautiously optimistic and I think its appropriate – I think keeping it closed and keeping people separated is important and I think we are all on the same page in terms of protecting the public, protecting our staff – it’s all family that works here. We don’t want COVID to happen to anybody – we hope for the best.”

Meanwhile, the mayor vows to continue to shut down religious services in the Jewish community and close any venue where more than 10 people are meeting.

“Everyone must act differently — I had meeting with faith leaders, and we had to make horrible decision to shut down services and it is the strongest message that we must shut down,” de Blasio said. “If you have a name and place, we will deal with it. It is a rarity, all community leaders agree this is the best way to deal with this is to shut down. And if we need to summons and issue a cease and desist, we will do it.”

This story first appeared on amny.com.

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