A day at the beach will look different this Memorial Day and beyond.
Massachusetts beaches can reopen on Monday, but with rules in place regarding crowd size, masks, activities, and social distancing, according to the “Reopening Massachusetts” report released Monday by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The new beach rules include limiting social gatherings to less than 10 people, remaining six feet from others and maintaining 12 feet between towel/beach blanket areas, wearing masks if social distancing is not possible (though they’re not required when swimming), and refraining from beach sports such as volleyball, soccer, and bocce, according to a guidance released Monday by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
State Senator Julian Cyr, who represents Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard and is on the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force, said he’s expecting a “pretty muted” Memorial Day weekend on the Cape this year since leisure accommodations are not allowed. The reopening of hotels and other lodging falls under Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which will begin no sooner than June 8, he said.
“There’s nothing magic in the Memorial Day weekend for this year’s travel industry,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, also on the task force. “What’s magic are those health numbers. And if we keep the public health numbers going in the right direction, then we can restore our economy.”
While the parking lots of beaches controlled by the state’s department of recreation open May 25, Cape beaches have been open all along, Cyr said.
“Beach access on Cape Cod broadly has not been restricted during the duration of the pandemic, is not restricted now, and will not be this weekend,” Cyr said.
Mark Ells, manager of the town of Barnstable and a member of the task force, said he was pleased with the state’s guidelines for beaches.
“So far, the people at the beach have been very good about [social distancing],” Ells said. “When they’re not, we’ll go out and we’ll chat with them and remind them of the governor’s orders.”
Cyr said visitors to Cape beaches and other public spaces must take personal responsibility for complying with state guidelines. He acknowledged that enforcing the guidelines in a space as large as a beach could pose a challenge.
“If people are not complying,” Cyr said, “then I expect there will be conversations about revisiting what’s acceptable.”
Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore and a member of the task force, had this message for visitors on Memorial Day: “Be respectful of each other, practice social distancing, wear face masks where appropriate, and be prepared to take back what you bring with you.”
Carlstrom and Ells noted that beach restrooms, trash services, and lifeguard services won’t yet be available on Memorial Day.
For those taking day trips to the Cape this weekend and for the next few weeks, restrooms may be hard to find, Northcross said.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “The restaurants aren’t open. The visitor centers aren’t open. Your normal pit stops are not to be assumed, let’s just put it that way.”
Sean O’Brien, director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment and a member of the task force, had the following advice for folks gathering with extended family in any capacity this season: “The bottom line is, we’re still in a situation with a public health emergency so it’s really important to maintain that social distancing.”
“I think it’s going to be a different summer,” Ells said. “If people are just respectful of distancing, I think they will be able to come here and they will be able to enjoy their summer. I think if they don’t, it will be a problem.”
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will have a summer season,” Cyr said. “It’s going to look different than prior summer seasons. And it’s going to be delayed.”