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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Day At The Beach In The Age Of COVID-19

Claude Paris

People are advised to keep their distance from others and not overcrowd parks and beaches to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But with warm weather approaching, enforcing those health recommendations will be difficult.

State parks in Connecticut are “open for solitary outdoor enjoyment” during the coronavirus pandemic. Tom Tyler, director of state parks, says “solitary” is the operative word.

“Coming out to a state park is not really an opportunity to take a break from social distancing. It’s really when you have to up your social distancing game.”  

A few state parks have had to shut down to encourage social distancing, including Kent Falls State Park and Seaside State Park, as well as parts of the boardwalk at Silver Sands State Park.

Tyler says the parks are a great place to enjoy alone or with immediate family, but social distancing mandates can’t be ignored. 

“There are a lot of people out there, tens of thousands on nice days, and that’s fine as long as we manage capacity, and people are monitoring their behavior.”

And, many of these places are really big! The parks make up over 7% of the surface area of Connecticut. So, Tyler says, it shouldn’t be hard to find room to spread out. 

“Most of the rules about social distancing are set as a state policy, and then on the ground, we’re limiting the use of pavilions and picnic tables, and looking to adjust some of our parking capacities at some of our larger shoreline parks to make sure that there aren’t so many people there that it’s impossible to social distance.” 

Parking — that’s proving to be the biggest issue. When lots got full, visitors parked outside entrances and just walked in.

Violators are supposed to be fined, and state police could even arrest offenders for entering parks that have reached capacity. 

But enforcing that is difficult.

Suzy Goldhirsh, president of the Fire Island Association on Long Island, says park police are limited in the amount of social distancing enforcement they can do, but restrictions on parking can help.

“If hordes of people are coming into Robert Moses State Park in cars, they’ll divert the cars into other parking lots, try to keep people moving along. But, there’s not much that they can do in terms of tighter enforcement of that.” 

Some beach communities have tried their best to limit visitors.  

Last weekend, East Hampton Town Police issued over 170 tickets in Montauk for parking violations after a wave of seasonal homeowners and tourists went to the beach.

Police say spots have been limited for a reason. So if the lot is full, they ask that you find another place to visit. 

Goldhirsh says social distancing at parks and beaches comes down to personal responsibility. 

“What is the personal level of risk that each individual and then family group are going to decide they want to maintain?

And Goldhirsh says Fire Island residents, like many beach communities, want to know what’s going to happen this summer.

“The big question is, what is social distancing in the summer, in public, in recreational areas going to look like? It’s not going to be enforceable, it’s going to be up to personal responsibility. And I think the governor will set a tone there.” 

Suffolk County wants to have that figured out long before Memorial Day when tourism is at its peak. County Executive Steve Bellone says Long Islanders are not out of the woods yet.

“It’s going to be a different kind of summer. It’s not going to be the same kind of summer that we’re accustomed to, that we’ve experienced in the past, because we have to have these measures in place to protect public health and prevent us from going into a more restrictive economy again.” 

Another factor is how long face masks will be required in public — that could make for some strange beach tan lines…

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.

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