There were plenty of people walking the boardwalk and shore of Jones Beach State Park on Sunday, a cool spring day. With a cool breeze and wariness of Covid-19 in the air, many were wearing a light jacket and a mask.
In just a few months, this scene may look a bit different, with people in their swimsuits sprawled out on beach towels instead. But whether the beach will be filled at 100 percent capacity, or a limited capacity, remains a mystery.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and other state and local officials on April 28 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.
“I feel as long as you’re outdoors and especially with so many people being vaccinated at this point, not to mention that if you remember last summer there was a big drop in Covid cases, I feel outdoors it should be allowed,” said Donna Jebaily, a member of the Seaford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. “It’s not only good for the local economy, I think it’s just good for people in general.”
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.
A Bellmore resident, Steve Schumach, who was staring out into the Atlantic Ocean horizon from the Jones Beach Boardwalk on Sunday, said he agreed with Curran’s call to expand capacity at beaches.
“It is outdoors and being outdoors with the sun shine is not a problem,” he said.
Michael Mihale, owner of Point Lookout Clam Bar, which has a view of the Reynolds Channel, said he agreed with Curran’s call, as more summer beach goers means more hungry customers.
“I think people outside should be able to do what they want to do,” Mihale said. “We were supposed to, at some point in our lives, get beyond Covid, so I think people eating outside and going outside is definitely appropriate.”
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.
“Opening beaches to 100 percent capacity is a no-brainer given the amount of residents vaccinated in Nassau County and the very low risk of outdoor transmission as confirmed by the CDC,” said Nassau County Legislator Steven D. Rhoads. “The Republican Majority in the Legislature will continue to push for a speedy and safe return to normal as we have been for months.”