FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Americans have never been more ready to get out of the house and sunbathe. Warm-weather beach destinations are the most popular vacation destinations, with Florida – especially Key West – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and San Diego being the most important considerations.
According to Tripadvisor, 50% of travelers want to book a one to five day trip this month, indicating a huge pent-up demand for sand and surfing. But the desire for a beach vacation coincides with recent spikes in coronavirus cases in nearly half of the states, including beach paradises like Florida, Texas and the Carolinas.
The good news for beachgoers is that 83% of beaches are now open from just 56% two weeks ago, according to the National Recreation and Park Association. Experts agree that outdoor activities pose a relatively low risk, as the air helps spread virus particles as long as you follow the basic precautions.
“It’s not going to be your typical summer on the coast. Most beaches will have physical distance limitations, “said Allison Colman, health director of the National Recreation and Park Association.
Common changes include parking restrictions to manage the crowds, restrictions on leisure activities such as sunbathing and nixing coolers, chairs, umbrellas and other equipment. Beach rules vary widely by city and county, and visitors should check the regulations of their destination before heading out.
In New York City and the suburbs, the state beaches are completely open for swimming, although some picnic areas are off-limits and the parking lots may close early on the busiest days to ease the crowds. The city’s beaches are also open, but swimming is prohibited.
State beaches are open for swimming and sunbathing in Connecticut, where officials have urged people to keep 4.5 meters between blankets, and many parking lots have reduced capacity. New Jersey’s public beaches have also reopened with reduced capacity, and some don’t sell daily badges.
In California, most beaches, including popular ones in Los Angeles County, now allow for sunbathing and swimming. Some maintain the ban on staying in one place, but have them practice or cross the sand to reach the water.
The beaches have also reopened in Miami this month, banning groups of more than 10 people, requiring social distance of 10 feet (3 meters) or more and banning awnings. Masks should be worn when social detachment can be difficult.
In many areas, ‘beach ambassadors’ stroll through the sand to enhance social distance. Nearly 50% of agencies use park rangers, law enforcement officers, or other personnel to spread the crowd, Colman said.
If you’re downwind from groups of people, even if you’re more than 6 feet (2 meters) apart, breathing droplets can inflate, putting you at greater risk, said Dr. Shawn Nasseri, a Beverly Hills, California, ear, nose, and throat specialist.
If it’s not busy, it might be safe to enjoy a beach day with a small group without a mask, and ideally bring your own towels, toys, chairs, and food. If you need to rent equipment, make sure to use a disinfectant wipe.
‘The caveat is that people cannot be caught like sardines on the beach. They can’t sit on top of each other, ”Nasseri said.
If the parking lot is full or the beach looks full, experts advise choosing a different beach or coming back to off-peak hours like weekday mornings and evenings.
The most difficult to navigate are areas with heavy traffic, such as parking spaces and narrow driveways to and from the water. Wearing a mask is advised.
“People have that quarantine fatigue in LA and other coastal cities, and they literally say,” forget it “… we’ll see bumps,” said Nasseri.
Nivek Divincci has been to Miami Beach half a dozen times since it reopened more than two weeks ago and calls it a natural stress reliever.
“The wind, the ocean, the sound of the waves, the sand – all that makes it feel like you’re in a better place,” said the 20-year-old real estate agent.
On most visits, he was away with his roommate or a few other people, practiced social distance, and felt safe except once.
“It was busy and people were breaking the guidelines … no masks,” he said, noting that the groups were getting bigger. “They touched each other 24/7 and they even shared drinks at some point.”
Nasseri says a car trip is safe, as long as vacationers take social distance from gas stations, stay in hotels according to CDC Sanitation guidelines, and stick to takeaway to avoid crowds.
For more information on how to get to the beach safely, see this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/parks-rec/public-beaches. html.
Andrew Dalton, author of Associated Press Entertainment, contributed to this report in Los Angeles.
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