Northam to open up beaches at Virginia Beach by Memorial Day

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is relaxing restrictions on beach goers in Virginia Beach ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
Northam said Monday that he is allowing the beaches to open under modified conditions that will allow sunbathing and surfing starting Friday. Northam said there will still be a ban on group sports, the use of alcohol, electronic speakers, and tents. And beach parking will be capped at 50% capacity, the governor said.
“My message to Virginians is this, and it is very simple: You must be responsible,” Northam said.
He joins several other East Coast governors who are moving to open beaches in some form ahead of the holiday weekend.
Last week, most of Virginia began Northam’s first phase of a gradual reopening plan, which kept in place beach closures except for exercise and fishing.
Those rules were not strictly enforced and warm weather last weekend drew large crowds to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, the state’s most popular beach.
Families ordered snow cones, bought hermit crabs and filled gift shops while bikers pedaled on the boardwalk on Saturday, the Virginian-Pilot reported. Tents, umbrellas and beach blankets were set up near the water.
Northam said the Friday’s planned reopening was done in conjunction with city leaders in Virginia Beach, which relies heavily on tourism to power the local economy.
Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said “beach ambassadors” would be present to help “diplomatically” enforce social distancing measures while extra cleaning would be performed in needed areas. He said the city wants to make sure everyone is safe, while at the same time enjoying themselves.
“It’s good emotionally for people to come to the beach,” Dyer said. “The sunshine is good for them.”
The governor issued a stern warning with the announcement that he could close the beaches again if his new rules aren’t followed.
“I will not hesitate to reinstate phase one restrictions or even close the beach if necessary,” Northam said.
The governor said the reopening will only apply to Virginia Beach and to nearby First Landing State Park, but said other beach localities can request a reopening if they develop a plan similar to Virginia Beach’s.
As of Monday the state health department reported Virginia had more than 31,000 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, with more than 1,000 confirmed or probable deaths.
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