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Northam says Virginia Beach can open beaches for recreational use by Memorial Day weekend; Dyer vows ‘safe’ reopening

People are seen at the beach on Saturday, May 16, 2020, just south of the fishing pier at 15th Street. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia Beach, the resort city that has seen its tourism industry battered by shutdowns meant to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, can reopen public beaches for recreational use in time for the coming Memorial Day weekend.

“This includes sunbathing and swimming, as well as fishing and surfing, as defined by the city’s ordinance,” Northam said during a press conference in Richmond.

“It does not include group sports, alcohol, speakers, use of tents or groups of umbrellas, and parking will be capped at 50 percent capacity,” Northam said. “They’ll have beach ambassadors monitoring compliance and enhanced cleaning schedules for high touch areas.”

Northam warned that some restrictions, such as the need for social and physical distancing, must be followed. His administration and city officials have been discussing plans to safely reopen beaches for weeks.

“If people swarm these beaches and ignore social distancing rules or the regulations the city has put into place, I will not hesitate to reinstate phase one restrictions or even close the beach outright, if necessary,” Northam said.

The reopening is scheduled to start on Friday, May 22.

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, also speaking during the briefing in Richmond, thanked Northam for “the privilege … to open in a phased and safe way.”

Though beaches are, at present, closed to activities that are not related to fishing or exercise, there is clear demand. This past weekend, people flocked to the Oceanfront. Some beachgoers set up umbrellas and tents at the Oceanfront on Saturday, May 16, enjoying the good weather.

Some steered clear of others, picking generally isolated spots on the beach. Others were a bit more closely situated at areas such as the fishing pier near 15thStreet.

“Our city is committed to opening our beaches in a way that is safe for our residents, visitors and thousands of frontline staff who bring our beaches to life,” Dyer said today in Richmond.

Dyer said the effort to open beaches would focus on three main areas – greater cleaning of high-touch areas, educating people about physical distancing and enforcement aided by beach ambassadors and cleaning teams.

“I urge all of our visitors and residents to adhere to the rules and regulations in order to provide distancing at our beaches,” Dyer said. “We must not take this opportunity for granted, and everyone needs to be committed to being safe and proactive when visiting the beaches. And let’s remember this is short term inconvenience for long term gain.”

Northam said the opening applies only to Virginia Beach public beaches and First Landing State Park.

“This opening applies only to Virginia Beach and to First Landing State Park, which is contiguous to Virginia Beach,” the governor said, but he urged other beach communities to use a plan developed by Virginia Beach as a basis for their own reopening plans.

People are seen on the beach at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront the afternoon of Saturday, May 16, 2020. This photograph was taken facing north near the fishing pier at 15th Street. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]


Ed. — Further coverage will appear in the Sunday, May 24, print edition of The Independent News. I’m posting my notes of Northam’s and Dyer’s remarks below, for those interested. Reach me via jhd@princessanneindy.com, as needed.

Gov. Northam’s remarks about the beaches:

You’ve all seen that public beaches along the East Coast are taking the next steps. Officials in our beach localities, particularly in Virginia Beach, have been working for some time on a comprehensive plan for how to reopen the beaches while maintaining safety and social and physical distancing.

When I saw the first draft, I said, “This needs some more work.” So I directed our Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler to work with beach communities to toughen their plans. We have worked with them to improve those plans. Today, I’m announcing that as of Friday, May 22 – which is this Friday – I will allow the city of Virginia Beach to open its beaches to recreational activity. This includes sunbathing and swimming, as well as fishing and surfing, as defined by the city’s ordinance.

It does not include group sports, alcohol, speakers, use of tents or groups of umbrellas, and parking will be capped at 50 percent capacity. They’ll have beach ambassadors monitoring compliance and enhanced cleaning schedules for high touch areas.

Let me be clear: these rules must be followed. If people swarm these beaches and ignore social distancing rules or the regulations the city has put into place, I will not hesitate to reinstate phase one restrictions or even close the beach outright, if necessary.

My message to Virginians is this, and it’s very simple: You must be responsible.

Now we’ll here from our Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer about how his city intends to enforce these restrictions and ensure that they’re met.

And before Mayor Dyer comes to the podium, we have had a wonderful working relationship between Virginia Beach and our governor’s administration here.

As you know, we have been through some difficult times. We had the mass tragedy back on Memorial Day. We worked very closely together. Now we are preparing to open the beaches in Virginia Beach, and I could not ask for a better relationship.

So Mayor Dyer, I appreciate your leadership, and I also appreciate you joining us her today.

Mayor Dyer’s remarks:

Good afternoon, everyone.

I thank Governor Northam for granting us the privilege today to open in a phased and safe way.

Virginia’s beaches offer important mental health benefits through rest, relaxation and exercise. We have an opportunity to provide that safe, outdoor space on one of the widest beaches on the East Coast, Virginia Beach.

Our city is committed to opening our beaches in a way that is safe for our residents, visitors and thousands of frontline staff who bring our beaches to life. Reopening our beaches safely will require a coordinated effort that focuses on the following:

Cleaning high touch surfaces.

Educating guests about how they can enjoy the beach with physical distancing.

And enforcing regulations through interaction with beach ambassadors and clean teams.

I believe we have a great plan, and I am prepared to stand by this plan to ensure that when we open we will be the safe beach that is required in these most challenging times.

I urge all of our visitors and residents to adhere to the rules and regulations in order to provide distancing at our beaches. We must not take this opportunity for granted, and everyone needs to be committed to being safe and proactive when visiting the beaches.

And let’s remember this is short term inconvenience for long term gain. We have to ensure that we are safe, that people who want to come to our beaches feel they are safe and welcome, and we will do that.

And let’s always remember that we all are one day closer to this terrible pandemic being behind us than we were yesterday.

Mr. Governor, I thank you for this opportunity.


© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

 

The Independent News

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