Towns along the Jersey Shore will reopen their beaches in time for Memorial Day, but will have to limit capacity and enforce social distancing rules, Governor Phil Murphy announced Thursday.
Murphy’s much-awaited guidance leaves enforcement to each municipality and allows towns to determine the best way to cap crowds to prevent additional outbreaks of COVID-19.
“The Jersey Shore, after all, are where memories are made. The last thing any of us wanted was for summertime down the shore to be a memory,” Murphy said at his daily briefing.
Public restrooms, changing stations, and shower pavilions will also reopen. Arcades, rides, amusement parks and festivals, however, remain temporarily banned. The same for large gatherings and organized sports.
Murphy said family members can stay together but otherwise people should stay six feet apart and wear face coverings when possible.
The state is responsible for Island Beach State Park but it’s up to individual towns on whether to open or close their beaches. Many had opted to shut down or limit activities on the beach as the pandemic ravaged the state. In the last few weeks, towns have started clearing away the barricades and allowing passers-by back on their boardwalks but mayors said they were waiting for uniform guidance on how to regulate summer crowds.
Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio, who also serves as a freeholder in Cape May County, said it's going to be a different kind of summer.
“This is something we've never had to do before,” he said. “Our job has been to bring as many people as we can, now we are going to be practicing capacity management.”
Desiderio said he doesn’t want lifeguards enforcing social distancing rules and will work with police departments to provide enforcement.
He said a few towns in his county will do a dry run of the new rules this weekend. Murphy’s beach restrictions take effect May 22nd.
“The data tells us we can make this announcement now,” Murphy said. “After months at home, I know many families cannot wait for a day down the shore.”
New Jersey has seen a drop in four key metrics: hospitalizations, number of patients needing critical care, number of people on ventilators, and the number of new cases daily. But the state still leads the country in per capita deaths and hospitalizations–even when compared to New York. New Jersey’s death toll has reached nearly 10,000 people.
Murphy’s announcement to reopen beaches comes on the heels of other measures he’s taken to ease lockdown restrictions across the state. On Monday, non-essential businesses will be allowed to reopen for curbside pick up only. Murphy said the same rules apply for businesses on boardwalks; sidewalk sales will not be permitted.
Non-essential construction will resume on Monday, but crews are required to wear face masks and stagger their shifts to prevent overcrowding. Additionally “car gatherings” for graduations, drive-in movies, and religious services will be allowed.
Murphy on Thursday also ordered public bathrooms at state and county parks reopened after park officials complained that feces and bottles of urine were left behind by park goers.