Ocean City reopening puts pressure on Delaware beach towns

Ocean City, Maryland plans to reopen its beach and boardwalk Saturday with some COVID-19 social distancing limitations still in place.

Late May appears to be Delaware Gov. John Carney’s target for broader reopening of Delaware’s beaches during the coronavirus crisis. Gov. Carney addressed Delaware’s beach issue Tuesday during a press conference, noting a letter he received from mayors of Delaware beach towns.

“In terms of opening the beach more broadly, I think looking towards the end of the month would be kind of the best estimate of when that might occur,” said Gov. Carney. “That is consistent with what I saw in the mayors’ letter today.”

Ocean City’s declaration will repeal the closure of the beach, all beach access points, boardwalk and the inlet parking lot enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was made by Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan Monday night after a town council meeting

Social distancing requirements of Ocean City’s April 28 declaration, governing social gatherings – community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sports – of more than 10 people at all locations and venues will remain in effect.

Ocean City visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines, although masks will not be required, according to Ocean City Council Secretary Mary Knight. Some restaurants will be open for carry-out only, although hotels and most boardwalk shops will remain closed, Ms. Knight said.

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, confirmed it would go against Gov. Hogan’s stay-at-home order, to drive into the city from outside the vicinity for a visit. He emphasized Gov. Hogan’s stay-at-home order remains in effect.

Meanwhile, Delaware’s coastal beach hubs are bracing for added pushback with Ocean City’s opening.

“Obviously, Ocean City opening places additional pressure on the Delaware beaches to open,” said Dewey Beach Town Manager Scott D. Koenig.

“Generally, one of the biggest concerns is a large influx of people who may or may not be willing to follow the social distancing guidelines. I hope we can begin progressing towards opening the beaches sooner rather than later. If or rather when the weather gets nice, that will add additional pressure. I hope their opening is successful and safe.”

Beaches in Dewey Beach are closed at this time.

“We had lifeguards monitoring the beach during the day this past weekend to inform people of the closed condition,” said Mr. Koenig. “Our police are also assisting with monitoring of the beach at times. Yes, we anticipate more and more difficulty keeping people off of the beaches as the weather gets nicer and we get closer to summer days.”

Farther north, little impact is expected in Lewes.

“I do not expect Lewes to be impacted by the opening of the beach, inlet parking lot and boardwalk in Ocean City,” said Lewes Town Manager Ann Marie Townshend. “My sense is that the opening of Ocean City beaches will have more of an effect on Fenwick Island and the other southern beach towns.”

“Pressure is currently strong to re-open the beach in Fenwick Island,” said town of Fenwick Island Town Manager Terry Tieman. “Ocean City’s decision to reopen its beach, beach access and inlet as early as this Saturday will definitely increase that pressure. We have already seen overflow to our beach from Ocean City, especially this past weekend. Manpower to enforce social distancing practices once we reopen access to our beach is of concern.”

“We are looking forward to welcoming our summer residents and guests back but believe that the safety of our community and visitors must be the driving force in our timing and decision making,” said Ms. Tieman.

“Folks need to remember we didn’t have a complete (beach) shutdown from the executive order,” said Gov. Carney. “So, you were able to go out on the beach so long as you are walking, you’re keeping social distancing and there were accommodations for surf fishing just for individuals. I’m not sure that went very well, by the way. So, I am not sure that over in Maryland, they are going a little bit further than we are, I think. We’re going to have a conference call later this week to talk to the mayors and see if we can come up with a consistent plan.”

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said this week as the “weather improves, it will be more difficult to manage the crowds that want to use the beach and boardwalk, especially in the attempt to follow social distancing.”

The beach issue is probably the “toughest decision” coming up, Gov. Carney said.

“I had hoped to kind of coordinate that with Gov. Hogan. And we have been calling his office. I think local officials down there, we were not coordinating with, obviously,” said Gov. Carney, who referred to the letter from Association of Coastal Towns in Delaware, comprised of seven southern Delaware coastal communities: Lewes, Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island.

“I did get a letter today from the Association of Coastal Towns in Delaware, a very thoughtful letter in terms of how they see it,” said Gov. Carney. “One of the things they mentioned in there was each of their towns are different. Rehoboth and Bethany in particular are different than Dewey Beach and Lewes, and some of the others. We had a call with the mayors earlier today and a lot of the beach issues came up.”

“We’ll be making that determination; meet with the mayors, get their input and make some differentiation among towns and then decide how to move forward,” said Gov. Carney.

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

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