In a typical year, all beaches and parks attract crowds as the weather warms up. People tired of being cooped up inside all winter venture out to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine April and May bring.
This past weekend was no exception: Around 30,000 people were estimated to have gone to Robert Moses State Park on Long Island on Saturday. On the north shore, photos on social media showed a stream of cars waiting in line to get to Sunken Meadow State Park, the boardwalks there full of people who have been sheltering-in-place for more than a month. Similar scenes of traffic back-ups were captured at Gilgo Beach along Ocean Parkway as well.
Ordinarily, this kind of thing would be celebrated by local officials. This year, not so much.
Crowds of any size are banned or at least discouraged in most areas coast to coast – especially in Suffolk County, one of the hardest hit counties in the entire country when it comes to COVID-19 cases and deaths. And park officials worry that if this kind of thing continues, they will need to bring in more staff to deal with the crowds and enforce social distancing, thereby putting them at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“This past weekend, there was a big surge of visitors throughout the state. But on Long Island, we had several parks closed down due to visitation,” said Troy Caupain, a PBA member of state parks police. He said it is going to be difficult to control the enlarged crowds growing forward.
In Nassau County, fire marshals had to break up large gatherings, with the top places including gyms, grocery stores, salons and barber shops.
Some say the surge can be pinned on “quarantine fatigue” – a worn-down feeling many are experiencing, and are looking for any solution that will make them feel better, or at least more human. The beautiful weather during the sixth week of quarantine became just too much of a draw for some.
“People are feeling fatigued, they are feeling depressed, anxious. I hear it and completely understand it,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curra. “As human beings, as social creatures, we are not built for this sort of lockdown.”
If it seems like there are more people out and about lately as compared to when stay-at-home orders began, it’s not just isolation messing with your mind. A scientific study shows that people are practicing less social distancing now than when quarantine started.
The new study used cellphone data to track how far people went from their homes and stayed out.
“The percentage of people who stayed home in the entire state of New York was at around 50 percent at its peak, two weeks ago,” said Dr. Lei Zhang, from the University of Maryland. “As of last Friday, that percentage has dropped to just about 43 percent.”
It’s not just on Long Island where people seem to be getting restless. Manhattan’s Central Park saw a sizable uptick in the number of people seen walking along paths and on fields, making social distancing a near-impossibility (not that some seemed to mind, as many were seen walking around without wearing masks). In California, higher temperatures brought people out to the beaches in droves, similarly forgoing many social distancing mandates.
Controlling outdoor crowds will be something officials must learn how to address and grapple with, as the weather continues to get nicer and the tri-state is not yet ready to relax social distancing measures with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths still too high.