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Beaches and parks try for a new normal in Memorial Day weekend reopenings

States saw mixed results are they waded into unfamiliar water, balancing social distancing with allowing people to enjoy the outdoors.
Image: People ride bicycles along the Ocean City boardwalk in N.J. on May 25, 2020.
People ride bicycles along the Ocean City boardwalk in New Jersey on May 25. Jessica Kourkounis / Reuters

People across the country attempted to kick off summer this holiday weekend, as beaches, parks and bars began to reopen while following social distancing guidelines with varying degrees of success.

In New Jersey, poor weather kept many residents desperate to get outside off the beaches.

Belmar, New Jersey, Mayor Mark Walsifer said on MSNBC Monday that the city had “the weather gods on our side” to prevent crowds. Still, Walsifer said boardwalks were busy, and the city is getting used to adjusting to the new normal.

But in nearby Pleasant Point, protesters seemed to ignore social distancing guidelines to make their voices heard on Memorial Day, saying the governor needed to reopen the state immediately.

Elsewhere in the country, beachgoers balanced risk with the desire to spend time outdoors. In Clearwater, Florida, beaches were open, but police said “plenty” of social distancing was occurring, and photos of the Memorial Day scene showed large spaces between beachgoers who were separated by cones.

“It’s not always going to be perfectly 6 feet between people, but I feel like people are trying to keep their space," Yasmina Hernandez, who went to Sunset Beach, just south of Clearwater, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s everyone’s individual choice whether they come out or not.”

“I’ve been in the house for months and had to get out for some fresh air,” Michael Montoya, at a nearby beach, told the Times. “But I’m not socializing or sitting close to people."

The scene in Clearwater is good news for Floridians worried about their neighbors violating social distancing guidelines, after footage showed large crowds in Daytona Beach, Florida, over the holiday weekend.

In the Lake of the Ozarks region in Missouri, huge crowds were seen with little social distancing at a pool party over the weekend.

The bar owner had told NBC affiliate KSHB of Kansas City that they would try not to let large groups gather and would try to enforce social distancing, but "we don't know who's in groups, who's in families, we expect them to do that on their own."

One person who attended the Saturday bash told the station that guests' temperatures were checked and there was sanitizer on hand. "If you’re worried about getting sick, obviously, or you want to distance yourself, it’s pretty much to each their own,” Jodi Akins said.

The Camden County sheriff said in a statement Monday that it was a "record weekend" at Lake of the Ozarks, but a lack of social distancing is not a crime and his department had no authority to enforce it. Public health violations are up to health authorities, he said.

"We expect residents and visitors alike to exhibit personal responsibility at the lake," Sheriff Tony Helms said in a statement.

Image: A man feeds seagulls at an empty Coney Island beach in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 23.
A man feeds seagulls at an empty Coney Island beach in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 23.Jeenah Moon / Reuters

In Houston, the mayor said city officials will have to ramp up enforcement of the governor's reopening guidelines after one club hosted a massive pool party that appeared to defy social distancing guidelines.

In coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, Mayor Bill Saffo acknowledged that the city is having some difficulty getting people to wear masks.

"It's an enforcement issue for us, and I think it's going to be an enforcement issue for most communities around the country,” Saffo said on MSNBC. The city has seen a rise in coronavirus cases since reopening, which Saffo said was expected.

“We knew that when we went from the mitigation phase to the reopening phase that we would see a spike,” he said, adding that he would “take a significant action” if the numbers rose further.

At the Grand Canyon, which began its reopening process, Victoria Girgis, a student at Northern Arizona University, said many people were wearing masks.

“It was not as crowded as I expected, especially for Memorial Day,” Girgis, 21, said. “A lot of opportunities to socially distance. People kept their distance."