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Should NYC’s beaches open for the summer?

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The city plans to keep them closed, but a lawmaker sees safety hazards

Nicolo Sertorio/Getty Images

Carefree days spent lounging on New York City’s beaches are unlikely to be a thing this summer thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic, with Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring officials with the Parks Department “do not have a plan to open the beaches” this season.

But that may not deter many sunshine-starved New Yorkers from visiting the city’s 14 miles of public beaches as the mercury rises. The challenge becomes striking a delicate balance between social distancing and ensuring New Yorkers can safely beat the heat when they inevitably flood the outdoors, seeking refuge from sticky summertime weather. This can only be done, one lawmaker argues, by developing a plan to keep beaches open despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Council Member Mark Levine, who chairs the Committee on Health, fears without lifeguards and strict city oversight, crowds will unsafely flock to beaches, provoking a flare up of the virus and drownings. Since New Yorkers won’t have access to street fairs, block parties, and other summer pastimes, it’ll be crucial to ensure beaches and other outdoor spaces are heavily regulated, says Levine.

“It won’t be like a normal day at the beach,” says Levine. “And while compliance if we open a beach will be a challenge, I think it will be an even bigger challenge if there’s simply no outlet for people. We’re forced to choose amongst a series of difficult options.”

New York City’s beach season typically begins on Memorial Day, which this year falls on May 25. A plan to keep these spaces open would include strict enforcement of social distancing—no parties, no barbecues—only “solitary recreation or members of a household,” says Levine. Beachgoers would likely have to cover up with face masks while not in the water. Hours should also be reduced to limit the use of NYPD and lifeguard staff.

“We need to start planning, because it’ll be too late if we wake up one day in June and decide we want to do this,” says Levine. “Let’s talk to public health experts and send a message that this is contingent on our ongoing progress, but let’s put a plan together.”

De Blasio has nixed funding for city pools from the FY2021 budget, but has yet to take a definitive stance on beaches. “We can’t give you a plan to open the beaches because we don’t know what’s going to happen going forward,” the mayor said at a recent press conference. “I’m trying to be honest with New Yorkers that I can’t see that yet because we don’t have the facts to back it up.”

The Parks Department declined a request for additional comment, although the agency has said that it has begun to plan for “a number of scenarios.”

Closing the city’s beaches throughout the summer would likely be the nail in the coffin for many seasonal businesses that are already suffering from reduced foot traffic and restrictions due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE order shuttering nonessential businesses.

The family behind Coney Island’s famed Deno’s Wonder Wheel, a century old fixture of the Brooklyn neighborhood, has worked to tighten its belt, fearing that the economic fallout spurred by the pandemic could eventually put the New York City icon out of business. The Wonder Wheel would have normally opened on April 5—it’s 100th anniversary.

“We’re a little nervous,” says Deno Vourderis, whose grandfather bought the Wonder Wheel in 1983. “We’re only open for a season. So even if things start opening up and returning to normalcy in September, our season is over.”