COVID creates dark cloud over Fourth of July beach weekend

Visitors to Rehoboth Beach and surrounded beaches must wear a mask at all times except when in the ocean. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

REHOBOTH BEACH — Local stakeholders were resigned to a Fourth of July beach weekend like no other as the holiday approached on Friday.

Even if dine-in restrictions due to COVID-19 weren’t in place, Nicola Pizza owner Nick Caggiano Jr. wondered just how many patrons would walk through the door anyway.

“There’s a lot of people who are still afraid to go inside places and have real concerns about getting too close to others even if masks are being worn, distancing being enforced, thorough cleaning is going on, everything,” he said.

“My assumption is that business will be down pretty significantly because there remains a lot of doubt and fear everywhere in the world right now, not just here at the beach.”

Describing “Fourth of July Week” as running from July 4 to July 11 due to extended holiday visits, Mr. Caggiano said he expected business to drop by at least 25% compared to typical years.

Gov. John Carney’s latest state of emergency order modification this week left barstools empty in Lewes, Rehoboth, Dewey, Long Neck, Bethany, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, West Fenwick Island, Ocean View, and Millville in attempt to deflate the recent spike of positive cases in eastern Sussex County.

At Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant in Lewes, that meant 20 seats inside and 30 more outside were unavailable. Owner Tom Jones expressed frustration with the governor’s latest move affecting yet another potentially big holiday weekend for small businesses.

“The impact on us will be huge once again,” he said, noting that table seating at his establishment was already lessened due to spacing requirements.

Funland had some of its games open with social distancing guidelines in effect. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

“The impact on us will be huge once again,” he said, noting that table seating at his establishment was already lessened due to spacing requirements.

“We’ve been struggling with everything taken away and there’s even less seating capacity. Our tables are full and there’s nowhere else to put them …

“People sit at the bar to have drinks and order food as well, so this is going to be really rough.”

Outside and inside table and booth seating was available at taprooms, restaurants and brewpubs as long as proper social distancing and sanitization was in effect.

Fizzled fireworks

The cancellation of the Fourth of July fireworks display at northbeach brought some comfort to Dewey Beach officials, though Mayor Dale Cooke noted that they had always been appreciative of organizer Alex Pires’s contributions.

“The concern was that since it would have been the only game in town with other shows off we might have had tens of thousands of people take part instead of thousands of people,” Mayor Cooke said.

“We could tell them to social distance but that would be impossible. As soon as we walked away they could have done whatever they wanted to and with so many people so close together it could have turned into chaos.”

The fireworks show in Lewes was put on hold until Sept. 5, if coronavirus pandemic conditions allow.

With large-scale fireworks shows on a hiatus, the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Co. did not schedule typical extra staffing and standby crew members this Fourth of July. Members remained on heightened alert due to exceedingly dry conditions and “were ready to roll if needed,” Capt. Kent Swarts said.

“In the past we’ve had issues with individuals who may have injured themselves or started small fires, so we’ll be paying extra attention to monitoring that’s going on.”

According to the Office of the State Fire Marshal, “Any firework that shoots into the air, commonly referred as an aerial firework, is illegal …

While sparklers and so-called novelty items can be discharged, July 4 is the only day to do it legally.

“Penalties for the misuse of fireworks or possession of illegal fireworks are misdemeanors subject to a fine,” according to the fire marshal’s office.

“Damage or injuries caused by using fireworks can result in felony charges. Explosives labeled as ‘Fireworks’ are subject to felony charges.”

Young people concerns

With an estimated 60% of Dewey visitors between the ages of 18 to 34, Mayor Cooke continues to worry about the tendency to gather and facilitate the spread.

“Our problem has been that it’s difficult to deal with the younger people, the ones who just finished in high school, are in college or just out of college and starting their careers in business,” he said.

“They think that they’re invincible and that even if they get it, they’ll just become sick and won’t die. What they don’t understand is that they’re spreading it to their friends and their families along with anyone else they get close to and those people could die from it.”

While Nicola Pizza’s weekday takeout orders remained strong since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March, Mr. Caggiano said his business “got crushed” on Saturdays and Sundays.

Mr. Caggiano drove through Rehoboth Beach on Wednesday night and said the activity resembled something that might been seen in April, not what he described as “one of the heaviest weeks of the year.”

The restrictions forced the owner to lay off two bartenders and re-purpose four others to handle other duties, he said. Waitress tips have dropped significantly, and Mr. Caggiano said Nicola’s cooks’ hours have been cut.

“It’s a terrible feeling all around, an emotional roller coaster that I believe everyone is experiencing in many ways,” he said. “I start the day thinking things are going to be OK and then have a wave of serious doubts for the future, and my feelings seem to go up and down.

“I’m 56 and never in my life did I think any of us would be in this situation but here we are.”

As of Wednesday, face coverings for everyone over 12 were required throughout Rehoboth Beach, including on the beach and all businesses. They were not needed while in the water but must be worn when riding bicycles.

City commissioners unanimously voted for the mandate, which came on the heels of Gov. Carney’s modification.

According to Mayor Paul Kuhns on the city’s website, ““We cannot afford another shutdown of our city, our businesses or restaurants.

“So we need each individual to make responsible decisions for the sake of our entire community – wear your mask when out in public.”

Town officials in Fenwick Island took a similar approach, ordering face masks to be worn while running or walking along the boardwalk area on Bunting Avenue. The town noted that as more visitors arrived in the last several weeks, social distancing was not being observed on the avenue.

Effective Friday, with limited exceptions, all persons in Bethany Beach were required to wear face masks in public settings, and the town noted that violations could result in civil fines of $50 to $100. The boardwalk, boardwalk plaza, dune crossovers and downtown commercial were all covered by the ordinance.

As of June 25, Funland in Rehoboth opened with limited offerings and hours; games such as Muffin Pan Mania, Beachball, Mini-Hoop, Balloon Bust, Ring Toss and some arcade/crane machines were open from 1 to 8 p.m.

State park limitations

As of Friday and until further notice, a number of restrictions were in effect at Delaware’s state parks.

Vehicles allowed in Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island state parks are limited to approximately 60% of the parking capacity and when reached, all vehicles are to be turned away until volume is reduced. The “one-in, one-out” policy that would encourage lines of waiting vehicles and people was not allowed.

At Cape Henlopen, when the main gate is closed to additional vehicles based on parking lot capacity, the closure will include vehicles that have arrived for drive-on surf fishing as well.

At Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island surf fishing beaches, officers will monitor the number of vehicles on the beach and will close drive-on beach entrances if vehicles fail to maintain the 20-foot distance between vehicles mandated by the governor’s emergency order.

In addition, masks or face coverings are required in bathhouse and concession areas at all three parks and strongly encouraged on the beach as well.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.