Will New Jersey beaches really reopen by Memorial Day?

Posted On Tue, April 28, 2020 By

Posted On Tue, April 28, 2020 By In New Jersey, Policy

A typically crowded beach day at the Jersey Shore, photo via Wikimedia Commons

“I want to see the shore humming throughout the summer,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy yesterday when discussing a reopening plan for his state. According to the New York Times, he said that this could come as soon as Memorial Day, considered the kick-off weekend to summer. But the suggestion has drawn mixed emotions, since yesterday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo alluded to the fact that the New York City area would not reopen when his state’s current Pause order ends on May 15th. Cuomo has also been persistent in his message that reopenings must be coordinated within the tri-state region to avoid sending crowds from one state to another.

Despite Governor Murphy sending off unofficial beams of hope to those dreaming of a “normal” summer, the more official six-point plan to reopening that he revealed yesterday includes no dates and very broad strokes. Called “The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health,” it is fairly similar to the details outlined by Governor Cuomo on Sunday. Murphy’s six key principles are:

  1. Demonstrate sustained reductions in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations (the same CDC-recommended 14-day trend that Cuomo referenced)
  2. Expand testing capacity
  3. Implement robust contact tracing
  4. Secure safe places and resources for isolation and quarantine
  5. Execute a responsible economic restart
  6. Ensure New Jersey’s resiliency

During his press conference yesterday, Murphy said, “I’m not sure I have a crisp answer for you on Memorial Day. Memorial Day is four weeks from today. I know what it normally is and I love it, and I hope it can be some form of that.” He added, “I think there’s a shot.” However, according to NJ.com, the governor also said that expanded testing wouldn’t be in place until the end of May, a fact that makes a good old-fashioned Memorial Day Weekend seem less plausible. New Jersey has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation. As of today, the state had 113,856 confirmed positive cases and 6,442 deaths.

Following the governor’s press conference, Mayor Paul Kanitra of Point Pleasant, NJ, a popular beach town and boardwalk destination, expressed his own hope to open beaches for Memorial Day. In fact, he is looking at the possibility of opening the town’s inlet on May 1st, according to Patch. Kanitra did, however, say that all reopenings would be done with social distancing in mind. For example, cars would only be able to park in every other spot at the inlet, and the beaches would be open first to residents and taxpayers as a test to see when out-of-towners could be permitted.

USA Today cited data from Oxford Economics that says in 2018, Jersey Shore tourism generated more than $7 billion in sales and employed nearly 50,000 people. And with unemployment claims in the state topping one million, the urge to reopen for summer seems even heavier.

The one common logic among towns seems to be the idea of keeping beach towels and chairs six feet apart. In the South Jersey town of Wildwood, Mayor Pete Byron has said he might ask patrolling officers on four-wheel-drive vehicles to enforce the rule, reports NJ.com. Another town has considered using rope barriers. Byron brings up another interesting point, which is the question of how many people can be on a single beach blanket.

There is also the question of staffing. Mayor Kanitra noted the lack of class 1 and 2 police officers who help with the surge of visitors in the summer. They have been unable to complete their physical training. Christopher Vaz, a business administrator in Seaside Heights, said budget cuts have led to fewer lifeguards and beach badge checkers (there is also the question of whether two lifeguards can share the same stand as they usually do). Vaz said Seaside would deal with this by having fewer access points and limiting swimming areas.

Further complicating matters is the decision by many beach towns to ban short-term vacation rentals to curb out-of-town visitors, many of whom come for the summer from New York City.

Thus far, Governor Murphy has left it up to the towns themselves to decide whether or not their beaches should remain open. Many have chosen to close their boardwalks but keep beaches open for people to have outdoor space. It is unclear whether the governor will begin to exercise oversight of beaches when it comes to his larger reopening strategy. As of now, New Jersey’s stay-at-home order is in effect until May 15th. On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Murphy announced a Restart and Recovery Commission that will immediately start discussions on the following:

  • Advise on issues of public health, workforce development, and transportation
  • Seek ways to maximize future federal support
  • Review potential long-term investments
  • Ensure restart and recovery works for every family

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