A battle is brewing between New York City and its neighbors on Long Island over the reopening of beaches as they try to do so safely to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With New York state beaches reopening Friday in conjunction with neighboring states, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is letting cities and counties decide whether to let residents go to the beach. New York City Mayor de Blasio chose to keep city beaches closed and Long Island leaders want their beaches open, sparking concerns that city residents will crash onto Nassau and Suffolk county's shores.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday that county beaches will be reserved for Suffolk residents only. "It's my priority that Suffolk residents will have access to their beaches with #COVID19 safety rules in place," he said.
In Nassau County, the legislature passed an emergency measure to keep county beaches for Nassau residents only. Rich Nicolello, the presiding officer of the county legislature, said that even if a small fraction of NYC's eight million people came to Nassau beaches, they would be inundated.
While Nassau County Executive Laura Curran was not in favor of excluding people from the beaches on Monday, she signed the emergency legislation Tuesday.
With the safety rules, beaches will only be able to operate at 50% capacity. In places like Long Beach, anyone had the ability to buy a pass to access the beach once it opens Friday, which left residents fearing they may get shut out. The city council later voted to make the beach only accessible to town residents, with the boardwalk open but with strict social distancing protocols in place. Non-residents who already paid $140 for the beach pass will still be allowed on the beach for Memorial Day weekend.
“I’m afraid. I mean like everybody who lives on Long Beach that after this weekend the beach might be closed," resident Olga Maslakov said.
Some towns are also stepping in to keep beaches reserved for county residents. Hempstead beaches, including Point Look Out and Lido Beach, will only be open to those from Nassau. That means the town, and the county, will forego the lucrative parking feels charged at some beaches.
And it's not just beaches that have folks on Long Island concerned. Some, like East Hampton town supervisor, have asked the governor to delay the opening of seasonal hotels, motels and resorts in the town. While those are currently considered an essential business, the supervisor wrote a letter saying that the summertime influx of people into the area has the potential to cause renewed outbreaks of COVID-19, and it's too much of a risk to leave them open.
"Because of (Mayor de Blasio)'s actions, we feel we have to do it because our residents pay such high taxes," said Legislator Laura Schaefer.
Mayor de Blasio is not only getting pushbacks from Long Island officials and residents but also from state and county officials.
State Senator Todd Kaminsky says he wants the mayor to reopen beaches because he doesn't want crowds from Coney Island to make their way to Nassau County.
"It’s a real problem out here. We have to have our beaches at 50 percent capacity. When you add the pressure of city residents, it really creates a difficult situation," he said.
After the bill's introduction, Kaminsky issued a statement that said in part: “It’s a shame Long Island has to turn away city beachgoers to protect its residents and ensure safe beaches, but until the mayor gets his act together and makes his own beaches safe, that’s the only responsible move. As soon as New York City does the right thing, Long Island should welcome back its neighbors as long as safe volumes can be maintained."
Nassau County officials even said they were considering checking IDs, like driver licenses, to make sure the individual is from the county.
Members of the Nassau County Legislature will hold an emergency meeting on the bill Wednesday.
NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday also called for the reopening of city beaches this summer, citing concerns about social distancing enforcement following several reports of violent arrests.
"We need a plan ASAP to allow New Yorkers to use city beaches safely this summer without creating new issues regarding over-policing and unequal enforcement. This has the potential to be a disaster without fact-based guidelines, smart planning, and clear communication," Johnson said.
The mayor said enhanced NYPD patrols will monitor activity as city-run beaches in the Rockaways, Coney Island and Orchard Beach this weekend to make sure nobody breaks the rules.
To that end, there are a series of restrictions that will come when the states' beaches reopen Friday.
Among the restrictions are:
- Every beach must be required to establish capacity limitations. However, Murphy said the state will leave it to local leaders to decide the method that would be best for their community, including limiting the numbers of available beach tags for any given day or through utilizing technology such as through a geographic special analysis. Additionally, Cuomo said that capacity will not exceed more than 50 percent.
- Social distancing measures requiring at least six foot distances between beach goers will be enforced except for family groups household members, caretakers or couples. This is the same approach taken with state parks. Local leaders will also decide how to best enforce social distancing.
- Organized games and contact sports will be prohibited as well as beach recreational summer camps and special events that draw people to the beach such as concerts, festivals, or fireworks. "Each of our shore communities have unique characteristics and we know there is no one size fits all approach. However, some restrictions do fit across the board," Murphy said.
- Regularly and properly clean shower pavilions, changing areas and restrooms. "Sanitation will also be of great importance especially since this order will allow for shower pavilions, changing areas and restrooms to remain open for visitors but they must regularly and properly cleaned," Murphy said, adding that restroom facilities in state and county parks will also reopen, provided they undergo frequent and proper cleaning.
- Boardwalk businesses will also face restrictions. Boardwalk restaurants must continue to operate as take-out and delivery only, but the rides, arcades and other draws must remain closed. Other features that are meant to draw a crowd like a playground or visitor center must similarly remain closed for the time being.
- Ensuring staffing levels are adequate. This is necessary in order to achieve the above measures and the for crowd control.