VIRGINIA BEACH—Warm weather drew crowds to the Virginia Beach oceanfront this past weekend even though the beach is considered closed under the state’s stay-at-home directives.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday that he will allow the city of Virginia Beach to reopen its beaches starting Friday, with some restrictions.
Northam said he was satisfied with a plan the city developed in conjunction with the state to reopen “beaches while maintaining safety, and social and physical distancing.”
Beachgoers will be allowed to sunbathe, swim, fish and surf under the plan. Banned are group sports, alcohol consumption, speakers, tents and umbrella groupings.
Beach parking will be limited to 50% capacity, and the city will roll out enhanced cleaning for high-touch areas.
“These rules must be followed. If people swarm these beaches … I will not hesitate to reinstate Phase One restrictions or close the beaches outright if necessary,” Northam said Monday during a briefing with reporters. “You must be responsible.”
Right now, Virginia’s beaches remain open only for exercise and fishing. States across the country’s eastern shore, including New York and New Jersey, have announced plans to reopen their beaches ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.
Northam said the order will only apply to beaches within Virginia Beach, including First Landing State Park. Northam said other localities that also wish to reopen their beaches should begin to develop plans similar to the one adopted by Virginia Beach.
Over the weekend, families ordered snow cones, bought hermit crabs and cramped gift shops while bikers pedaled on the boardwalk on Saturday, the Virginian-Pilot reported. Tents, umbrellas and beach blankets were set up near the water.
Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s first phase of a gradual reopening plan, retail stores are reopening with limited capacity, but indoor gyms remain closed, beaches are still off-limits and restaurants cannot provide indoor dine-in service. No restrictions have been lifted in northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County, which were granted two-week delays after local officials said it was too early to move forward.
“There’s a lot of that going on,” Conner Garrison said. He and Taylor Tripp, of North Carolina, just across the Suffolk border, purchased snow cones on the boardwalk. “I figured there would be nobody here,” Tripp said.
The newspaper reported the beach was not jammed and groups maintained their distance. Many people on the boardwalk wore masks.
Kayla Thomas and a co-worker had masks and gloves on while they served scones at an oceanfront concession stand. Thomas said the crowds looked like those she might see at the beginning of summer.
“I’m just shocked by the amount of people,” Thomas said.