No Memorial Day Swimming at City Beaches

The Coney Island boardwalk crowd on Saturday.
Todd Maisel

New York City’s beaches will not be open for swimming by Memorial Day weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.

The beaches will remain open for walking or sitting, but no groups will be able to congregate.

“We didn’t make this decision lightly and we are watching the indicators — we will be smart and careful about this. We are taking it a week and even a day at a time,” de Blasio said. “So maybe later in the summer we will open, but we are not ready yet.”

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The mayor warned, however, that if New Yorkers fail to comply with social distancing regulations, stricter action will be taken to block the beaches off to the public — including erecting 14 miles of fence along the waterfront, if necessary.

A PEP officer hands out masks at Coney Island.Todd Maisel

“We are always putting health and safety first and even though it is beautiful weather, we will be smart about what we allow and don’t allow,” the mayor said.

COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the city, but de Blasio made clear at his Sunday press conference that no one wants a resurgence of the virus that would force more draconian measures to be implemented.

“We are the epicenter of the crisis and opening the beaches for Memorial Day is not the right or safe thing to do,” he said.

The city is now training lifeguards for when the beaches do open to swimming, but added measures would have to be taken to assure continued social distancing.

On May 15, 77 people admitted to hospitals in the city for COVID-19, and there were 469 people in ICUs compared to 506 the day before.

To enforce the rules, the NYPD has partially restored the special police detail to Coney Island beaches as a result of requests from elected officials, but officers will resist giving summonses, they said privately. Instead, they and Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers will distribute masks to the public and encourage safe practices.

Folks lounging on the Coney Island beach Saturday.Todd Maisel

Normally, 150 officers are assigned to beach detail for Memorial Day, but instead, sources say only 50 will be assigned to augment precinct personnel at the beaches throughout the city to save money.

Still, their numbers have been increased by hundreds of school safety agents who are now assigned to parks and beaches because schools are closed.

Some police officers privately expressed concern that unarmed school safety officers would be ill-equipped to deal with large gatherings or even armed gangs. Gang-related violence has been spiking throughout the city and account for the recent rise in homicides.

Public gatherings, even if social distancing is practiced, are still banned in New York State, but how people interpret that and how it’s enforced are spotty at best.

With Memorial Day a week away, the Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk were busy on Saturday, with most people maintaining social distance on the beaches. Some people disregarded the gathering guidelines on the boardwalk.

A few boardwalk concessions were open for take-out, though in some cases, social distancing on the lines was disregarded. And the boardwalk itself was crowded in spots.

Aaron Collins and Alexia Greve take a quick dip in the ocean.Todd Maisel

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park opened two food concessions, with restrictions on the lines and every employee wearing masks and gloves. Deno’s Sweetshop within the amusement park opened this week, gates allowing for long lines to socially distance safely.

Ruby’s bar was serving beer for takeout and Nathan’s opened its food concession on the Boardwalk. Several other concessions were preparing to open for takeout.

Visitors were sitting on the beach, mostly together with families, with some small groups of friends sitting or, in some cases, playing volleyball.

“We are just keeping to ourselves. Is it the smartest idea? I don’t know, but we had to get out,” said Aaron Collins of Brighton Beach, who went swimming in the shallows with his friend’s daughter Alexia Greve, 7.

“It’s awesome,” the young Alexia Greve, a resident of Astoria, Queens, said after a quick dip in the still cold waters.

People were playing music on the boardwalk, some dancing, but maintaining distance and wearing their masks.

“We are wearing our masks, we are trying to stay away from one another and we are out here in the ocean air,” said Alan Mounde of Coney Island. “I just can’t stay inside anymore.”

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