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Will the crowds return?

Officials ask state to allow full capacity at beaches

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and other state and local officials on Wednesday called on the state Department of Health to allow beaches across the state to open at 100 percent capacity this summer, in light of the declining number of cases of Covid-19 and the spread of vaccinations.

At a news conference at the Long Beach boardwalk and Grand Boulevard, Curran, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, and City Council President John Bendo said they saw little reason for beach capacity to be restricted to 50 percent, as it has been since last summer.

Curran noted that 52 percent of the county’s population had received at least one vaccination, and that shots were readily available in any number of places. She also noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s easing of its mask-wearing guidelines on Tuesday.

“The risk of outdoor transmissions is lower, and we are asking the state to allow beach capacity to be 100 percent,” Curran said.

Nassau County’s positivity rate for the virus is about 2.1 percent, among the lowest in the state.

Kaminsky, a Long Beach native, said it made no sense to restrict beaches to 50 percent capacity any longer. The state must act now, he said, to allow municipalities to plan for the hiring of lifeguards and other beach personnel.

The issue is a major one in Long Beach. The city lost over $1 million last fiscal year because of reduced capacity on its beaches. City Manager Donna Gayden has put forward a five-year plan to help the city dig out of financial troubles, and maximizing beach revenue is a crucial factor.

Curran said that a full opening is key to the effort to support local businesses, which also lost money last year.

Ralph and Stacy Anselmo, owners of Beach Burger, across the boardwalk from where the press conference was held, said their restaurant lost 50 percent of its typical revenue last year.

In a bipartisan letter sent to State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, the officials wrote, “Our beaches are crucial economic engines that support entire communities, and after a difficult year, local businesses are more dependent than ever on beach related revenue. With warmer weather rapidly approaching, local jurisdictions must plan for and make critical decisions concerning beach management, and are therefore in need of your department’s revised guidance as soon as possible.”

The letter was also signed by State Assemblywoman Missy Miller, a Republican from Atlantic Beach.

Bendo said that losing $1 million in beach revenue was “a difficult financial pill to swallow.” Keeping the current restrictions in place, he said, “would be a death knell to our businesses.”

Responding to an inquiry from the Herald, the State Department of Health said on Wednesday, “As more people become vaccinated and as our positivity rates remain low, the Department will continue to review capacity guidelines for beaches, businesses and entertainment venues statewide, as part of our phased-in approach to reopening New York.”

Curran was asked what would happen if Covid rates began to rise after a full reopening of the beaches. “We’re flexible with what we do,” she said. “There’s no science behind the idea that the beaches will be a problem. So many people are now vaccinated.”

Capacity at Jones Beach for the Bethpage Air Show on Memorial Day weekend, she said, will remain at 50 percent.

People walking, jogging or riding bikes on the boardwalk just before the press conference began appeared to agree that beaches should be fully reopened this summer, but some were cautious. “I don’t know,” said Cindy Schott, a business consultant. “If everybody was responsible, I’d be for it, but they’re not. I don’t want to keep people off the beaches, but some people won’t even get vaccinated.”

Ralph Bottone, a retired insurance agent, said he was certain that expanding beach capacity was a good idea. “They’ve already determined the exposure outdoors has lessened,” he said.