New York state beaches will open Memorial Day weekend – but with limits

Two girls stay at the Jones Beach at the sunset
Jones Beach State Park will reopen on Memorial Day weekend along with other state beaches across New York. (Photo via Getty Images)

State beaches across New York will open for Memorial Day weekend, but with strict crowd limits to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday.

Beachgoers will be asked to wear masks and socially distance themselves from one other while soaking in the sun and wading in the surf. But don’t expect a crush of people for the unofficial start of summer; Cuomo said beach capacity levels will be cut by half.

New York’s beach reopening is part of a coordinated effort with New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut. On Thursday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that the Jersey Shore would be open for Memorial Day weekend.

The coordination, Cuomo said, prevents an onslaught of beachgoers from closed states to beaches in open states, which would create overcrowding and increase the risk of another COVID-19 outbreak.

“We want what’s best for New York, but we want what’s best for New Yorkers,” he remarked during his May 15 press conference. “It’s not in New York’s best interest to have people go out to other states if they’re overcrowded.”

State-controlled beaches will reopen on Friday, May 22, with a litany of new regulations designed to protect visitors and park staff.

First, the capacity level at each beach will be no more than 50% of normal levels. Cuomo said this will be enforced at parking areas and entrance/exit points. 

Group activities will be prohibited; that includes pickup volleyball and football games. Areas of social gathering, such as picnic areas and playgrounds, will remain off-limits to the public.

All visitors and employees must wear masks when they can’t socially distance. Concession stands will also remain closed to avoid long line formations, the governor added.

The fate of municipals beaches across the state — such as Coney Island, Rockaway Beach and Orchard Beach in New York City — will be left to local governments. If they choose to open, Cuomo said, they must adopt the same state regulations at a minimum. 

“If they think there are additional requirements needed, they are free to do that,” Cuomo said, noting that local governments will be empowered to open their beaches through a home rule message. 

However, Cuomo said, localities must make their decision on reopening beaches by no later than Wednesday, May 20, so the state beaches can plan accordingly for an influx of additional visitors.

“If a locality doesn’t open beaches, we need to know because we’ll have more demand on the state beaches,” he added.

NYC still on pause through at least May 28

The beach opening announcement came on the day when five upstate regions of New York reopened under strict limitations after hitting state benchmarks for decreases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and testing capacity. 

New York City, and the other five regions not cleared to reopen, remains on “PAUSE” through May 28. A region will reopen once it meets all seven state benchmarks regardless of when that happens, Cuomo added.

The governor said the reopening regions are going through the first of several phases of their restart. It clears the way for the resumption of construction activity as well as shopping transactions. 

Construction workers must avoid large congregations. Stores must limit transactions to curbside pickup, or socially distanced pickups when curbside pickups are not feasible. All individuals must wear masks in public.

Even with the beginning of reopening, Cuomo warned local governments to monitor the infection, testing and hospitalization rates — and to take immediate action when activity increases.

“You will see an increase,” he said. “We expect to see an increase, but that increase has to be monitored and has to be controlled. … When the rate of transmission hits 1.1, you’re heading toward a bad place.”

A transmission rate higher than 1 indicates rapid community spread, and the onset of an outbreak.

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