Seaside Heights officials are taking a cautious approach to reopening the borough’s beaches and internationally famous boardwalk, as large crowds are expected to arrive as soon as an announcement is made.
Given the popularity of the town’s facilities, Mayor Anthony Vaz said Monday he would prefer to wait for Gov. Phil Murphy to rescind his statewide “Stay at Home” order before opening up the boardwalk and beaches to what are usually 30,000 to 40,000 visitors each weekend during the summer. The order was put in place March 21 to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I want to open with caution,” said Vaz. “I want to make sure that, first, the stay-at-home order is taken off the books. Once the governor’s office takes away that stay-at-home order, it’s saying people can go about their business, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be restrictions.”
The “Stay at Home” order was reiterated by Murphy last week and continued indefinitely.
Seaside Heights faces challenges beyond those of its smaller, sleepier neighboring beach towns. The shear number of people who flock to the borough – then return home after the weekend – has some officials worried about the spread of COVID-19. Through contact tracing measures the tri-state region is expected to employ, an outbreak traced back to Seaside Heights would be disastrous for the town’s tourism industry, Vaz said.
“A lot of towns have their own niche, whereas we are completely a tourist and recreation area,” said Vaz.
Local residents have not protested the closure of the beach and boardwalk in any large number. Vaz said he has only received two or three calls. But about a dozen businesses have contacted town hall to ask what type of summer they might expect. The lack of an answer from state officials is another reason the town is taking a wait-and-see approach. Murphy is expected, perhaps this week, to issue statewide guidelines on the formal operation of beaches during the summer bathing season, when lifeguards are on duty and crowds are at their highest levels.
“I want to know what recommendation or restrictions will be required,” said Vaz. “How can I open my beach without knowing what the [state] restrictions are? We have some guesses, but no one is sure. The governor may say to cut our capacity by 50 percent. That’s a major issue to consider when hiring.”
Lavallette officials decided to reopen their beaches to the public as of Tuesday, but keep the town’s boardwalk closed. Seaside Park is also expected to announce the reopening of its beach – but not its boardwalk – in the coming days. Seaside Park, along with Brick and Toms River, may require masks to be worn while on the sand.
A teleconference between mayors of Ocean County’s northern barrier island communities was held Monday with the idea of coordinating a reopening, but multiple officials confirmed to Shorebeat a consensus was not agreed-upon.
“There were differences of opinion on protocols,” Vaz said, echoing similar comments from Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero and Brick Mayor John Ducey.
Vaz made clear, however, that he is not against reopening beaches when proper guidance is issued by the state.
“I do feel optimistic that at some point this week we will hear something from the governor very soon,” he said.