Seaside Heights officials are debating this week whether to reduce the maximum number of people allowed on the borough’s beaches following a busy weekend during which beach access gates had to be closed twice.
“We had to close the south end down for part of Saturday, then we ended up closing the whole beach around 3 o’clock,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz. “We’re probably going to reduce numbers on the beach moreso.”
Beach staff are currently allowed to allow 7,500 people on the beach before restrictions are put into place, representing a 50 percent capacity level. Those restrictions normally mean closing access gates to beach entrances. Twice this season, the town chose access to the boardwalk as a whole after it was deemed to be getting too crowded, with too few people following the state’s strict social distancing guidelines to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Phil Murphy has mandated that face masks be worn outdoors when social distancing – generally defined as the ability to put six feet of distance between your party and another – is impossible. On the Seaside Heights boardwalk Monday afternoon, there was a mix of people wearing masks and going maskless. On the beach itself, however, the overwhelming number of groups seated together were well greater than six feet away from others. During busy weekends, however, that isn’t always the case.
“Even though you’re conforming with the capacity, it looks easy, but we’re dealing with people standing close together,” said Vaz.
Among state mandates this season is one that requires borough officials to send a daily report to the state outlining how many people were allowed on the beach and how much revenue was brought in by way of beach badge sales. Recently, Long Branch found itself in a media spotlight after photos emerged of what appeared to be overcrowding on the beachfront. The photos drew a rebuke from Murphy, and fears grew that the governor could elect to close all of the state’s beaches at the height of the summer season. Seaside Heights officials are hoping to avoid similar scenes, even if they are maintaining a 50 percent occupancy.
“It looks good when you’re looking at it, but we want to reduce it to a level where there are going to be no problems,” said Vaz. “We’re going to look at things this weekend, if the heat wave is still going on, and we’ll make a determination by 1 p.m.”
Beach patrol, police and the borough administration will consider whether the crowd is socially distancing and make a call as to whether the 7,500 capacity can stay in place, or whether it should be reduced.
“We want to make sure that we’re not targeted,” said Vaz. “We want to do the right thing instead of accidentally doing something stupid and being shut down. Then, everybody gets shut down. There’s a ripple effect.”
Vaz said to ensure access to the beach, daily badges should be purchased the day before one plans to visit from the Viply app online.