Coronavirus Updates (May 16): Reopening Beaches, Guidelines for Phase 1

It’s time to get used to wearing a face covering.

As New York prepares to reopen its economy, the state is beginning to roll out guidelines for businesses and public spaces to reopen safely and prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with the focus on common-sense safety practices like wearing a mask when in close proximity to other people, maintaining social distancing and providing ready access to hand sanitizer.

We’re bearing down on Memorial Day Weekend, and both New York State and Suffolk County announced Friday that state beaches, and the county ocean beaches at Cupsogue in Westhampton Beach and Smith Point in Shirley will be open for the holiday weekend, with new occupancy restrictions.

Members of recently formed Nassau/Suffolk Joint Summer Operations Task Force are expected to announce their plans for reopening town and village beaches by Monday. The task force is a joint project of the Suffolk and Nassau County supervisors associations.

“For kids who don’t have playgrounds, pools, movies and amusement parks, all these things that aren’t operating and don’t exist right now, we have to have something for them to do,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday. “It’s far better to develop a safety plan allows us to proactively plan for and open in safe manner, protect public health and enable families to enjoy the beach.”

New York State has cut its beach occupancy limit by 50 percent, reduced parking, and mandated that picnic areas, pavilions and arcades at beaches remain closed, with no concessions operating. Contact sports like volleyball and football will also not be permitted.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday that beachgoers must wear face coverings when in public areas at beaches, but do not need to wear them when they find a spot to sit with their family group, or while in the water.

“Local governments can decide to open or stay closed,” he said. “If they chose to open, they must adopt the state’s requirements at a minimum. If they want to impose additional requirements, they’re allowed to.”

Mr. Bellone said Suffolk County lifeguards had worked with the county health department to determine the reduced occupancy at the county beaches based on the square footage of beaches.

He added that Suffolk’s beach employees will have their temperatures checked before each shift, and bathroom attendants will be on hand to regularly clean bathrooms. Hand sanitizer will also be provided for people to use before and after they enter bathrooms at the beaches.

Only one lifeguard will be on each lifeguard stand at county beaches, but if more than one lifeguard is needed for a rescue, they “will do what is needed to save a person’s life,” he said.

Mr. Bellone said the county’s has not yet opened its bay beach at Meschutt in Hampton Bays, but will likely do so later in the season.

“Beaches are part of the fabric of life on Long Island,” he said. “This virus has taken so much from us. We couldn’t allow it to take our ability to go to beaches this summer.”

Getting to Phase 1

As of Saturday morning Long Island was meeting just five of the seven metrics necessary to reopen its economy, awaiting a 14-day decline in new hospitalizations and hospital deaths, according to New York State’s Regional Monitoring Dashboard.

Landscaping and gardening businesses, along with outdoor recreational businesses like tennis courts, and drive-in movie theaters were allowed to open statewide as of Friday, May 15.

The state has prepared a guide for businesses to safely reopen in Phase 1 of the four phases of reopening the economy, which includes construction, manufacturing and curbside pickup at retail stores.

Mr. Cuomo said construction workers must wear masks when within six feet of one another, their employers must provide masks and other safety equipment, and no congregate meetings are allowed at job sites.

With curbside retail pickup, employees, purchasers, and everyone in the purchaser’s car must be wearing a mask. If a retail business can’t provide curbside pickup, they’re allowed to let people into the store for pickup, but not to browse and shop, as long as the business doesn’t exceed 50 percent of its normal occupancy.

Businesses must also provide enough staffing to enforce these standards.

Manufacturing and wholesale businesses must also not exceed 50 percent of maximum workforce occupancy in their place of business.

Industry-by-industry details on these requirements are online here.

Phase 2 of reopening includes professional, financial and administrative services, real estate and retail. Phase 3 includes restaurants, food service and hotels, followed by arts, entertainment, recreation and education in Phase 4.

Regions will be permitted to progress to the next phase of reopening if they continue to meet the seven hospital and testing metrics on the state dashboard after two weeks. The leaders of each regional “control room” have been tasked by the state with dialing back the reopening of the economy if the region falls below those benchmarks.

New York has not yet provided detailed guidelines for later reopening phases.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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