Summer has officially begun, bringing sunshine, seasonal cuisine and a hankering to get to the beach.
Perhaps this year more than ever, people are craving some time by the water. After being cooped up inside for months due to COVID-19 lockdowns, many are seeking the freedom and fresh air of the outdoors.
“Beaches will have the same travel boom that campsites and national parks will experience from coronavirus,” Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app TripScout, told HuffPost. “Travelers are getting increasingly anxious for outdoor activities that are socially distant by nature, and we’re already seeing people flock to drivable beach destinations.”
But beach days require more consideration in these pandemic times.
“Every activity outside your home these days carries some level of risk,” said Angela Fusaro, an emergency medicine physician and co-founder of the telemedicine provider Physician 360. “The good news is we believe that outside spaces like beaches are generally safer than indoors, where air lingers and can’t circulate. And you can be smart and take steps to minimize the risk for you and your family.”
So what are those steps? Read on for advice from health and travel experts.
Consider The Location
Public health experts continue to advise against nonessential travel, as the threat of coronavirus has hardly disappeared. So if you want to go to the beach, it’s best to keep it local. Deciding whether to make the drive to your local beach should depend on the COVID-19 situation in your community and the number of people flocking to the shore.
“Understanding local risk is important,” Fusaro said. “There are many states where beaches are crowded with people from all over the country, or where infection rates are rapidly accelerating. These would be beaches to avoid.”
Everyone plays a part in protecting the heath of their communities, and this applies to beaches as well.
“How the beaches of our COVID-19 summer will look depends largely on the public’s perception of how safe the beach is, and, of course, their commitment to keeping the beach ― and each other ― safe,” said travel host Anthony Melchiorri. “It’s a new kind of social contract that really requires willing compliance from everyone.”
Assess Your Personal Risk
As with other activities outside the home, your own health status should be a major factor in deciding whether to go to the beach. Consider how likely it is that you or those in your household would require hospitalization if exposed to the coronavirus.
“You should understand your personal risk factors if you become infected and the risk factors of people you interact with regularly,” Fusaro noted. “This could include family members or co-workers with asthma, obesity or those who are over the age of 50. With each of these decisions, it is important to consider personal and societal responsibility.”
“The guidelines for keeping yourself safe at the beach are the same as other public places, including maintaining at least 6 feet of distance ― ideally more ― from anyone not in your isolation group.”
Keep Your Distance
“Many beaches that are fairly wide and offer ample room are naturally set up for socially distancing practices,” said budget travel expert Lindsay Myers. “This makes the beach an enticing place to stay safe and enjoy being outdoors. There is enough room on the beach for a family to sit, lay out and enjoy without coming into direct contact with other beach dwellers.”
If you decide to go to the beach, limit your group to the people you already interact with on a daily basis, and try to keep your distance from others. Try to go at a less busy time of day or to a less crowded area.
“Based on what we know today about the transmission of the virus in the air between people, any close contact carries some level of risk,” Fusaro explained. “So the guidelines for keeping yourself safe at the beach are the same as other public places, including maintaining at least 6 feet of distance ― ideally more ― from anyone not in your isolation group. This includes when you’re in the water!”
She also suggested beachgoers avoid sitting directly downwind from other groups because evidence suggests moving air can carry virus-laden droplets.
“I see people staying farther away from others while on the beach. People are going to walk those extra few minutes to be a bit more secluded,” Myers said.
“I think most people will self-enforce the 6-foot rule, and hotels and resorts will definitely be ensuring that guests are not comingling,” said Frank Cavella, the director of sales and marketing at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale in Florida. “At our beach, we are setting up chairs with at least 6 feet in between (from other groups of guests).”
It’s best to avoid closely confined areas, like public bathrooms and eateries, or at least keep your distance as much as possible in those spaces. And as always, wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
Wear A Mask
Face masks play a significant role in curbing the transmission of the coronavirus, so it’s important to wear one in places where you can’t maintain at least 6 feet of distance from people outside your group.
There are already mask mandates in place at some beaches, at least in areas with shops and restaurants.
“Visitors will also be required to wear a face-covering while walking to and from their vehicle, at snack bars and restrooms,” said Kathryn Farrington, vice president of marketing at Rhode Island’s Discover Newport.
“We are encouraging masks, although it’s not a requirement if sunbathing or exercising on the beach,” Cavella said.
Bring Your Own Food
The number of people who can dine at beachside restaurants will likely be restricted, and many people may feel safer avoiding those spaces.
“Bring your own snacks and drinks,” Fusaro advised. “And even take all your own toys, chairs and supplies, if possible.”
Farrington noted that Newport will be imposing restrictions on beachgoers
“If you use the picnic tables, you are asked to use your own wipes to wipe down the tables before use and to bring your own table covering to be mindful of those around you,” she said. “Also at Second Beach, you must ‘carry in and carry out’ your own trash.”
Pay Attention To Capacity Limits
Some beaches are imposing capacity limits as a way to prevent crowding and enforce social distancing.
“Our most popular public beaches are open in Newport and Middletown while other, smaller beaches are limiting access to only residents and, again, with a limited capacity,” Farrington noted for example. She added that beach parking lots have strict hours and have reduced the number of cars permitted to 33% capacity for now.
Some beaches have explored using reservation systems. Travel host Samantha Brown said she applauds this idea.
“A reservation tells me I can come,” she explained. “If a beach is on a first-come, first-served basis, we don’t need the disappointment of arriving at the beach with my kids only to be told it’s full. If no reservations are available, I would most likely choose to do something else. I see a lot of playing with the hose at home in my future for this summer!”
“Each category of beach has its own rules, so it’s imperative to check their websites for the most up-to-date restrictions.”
It may be difficult to enforce reservations or capacity limits at certain beaches, but those are likely the ones where such restrictions may not be necessary.
“In the Caribbean, we have so much beach in relation to the number of people using them, so that ratio means people will never overpopulate the beach,” said Rich Cortese, Aimbridge Hospitality senior vice president of development and operations for Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico.
Compare Your Options
It’s important to assess the risk factors of your options when choosing a beach to visit.
“Private beaches or state park beaches with significantly fewer people could be much safer,” Fusaro said.
Myers echoed that, noting private beaches are better able to control numbers than many public beaches. Still, that doesn’t mean private beaches at resorts, for instance, are inherently safer than public sites.
“It will be important to know how that resort is implementing the rules so that their guests have fun but can also stay safe,” Brown said. “No two beaches will be alike, even in the same state. After all, there are city beaches, state beaches, even beaches at national parks. Each category of beach has its own rules, so it’s imperative to check their websites for the most up-to-date restrictions.”
It may also be helpful to read recent reviews or social media posts for different locations to get a sense of safety.
Practice General Beach Safety
“I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that all the beach risks that existed before COVID-19 are still present now,” Fusaro said. “Don’t get so caught up with protecting yourself against coronavirus that you overlook general water and sun safety.”
Avoidable injuries or illnesses are not ideal in the age of the pandemic, as unnecessary hospital visits can increase your chance of exposure to the virus.
Take A Test
If you believe you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, it’s important to get tested. Fortunately, COVID-19 testing is becoming more widely available.
“Some people are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, so it’s important to isolate people who test positive to reduce the spread, even if they don’t have symptoms,” Fusaro noted. “Once you have been out in a group setting or around lots of people, consider getting a COVID-19 test three to seven days later, just to make sure you have not contracted the virus and are asymptomatic. This is an easy way to protect those you love, finding out early if you should isolate yourself.”
Ultimately, it’s up to everyone to do their part to keep beaches as safe as possible for visitors.
“If we all stay safe and follow regulations, we can all enjoy the beaches for the summer,” Myers said. “The beach always brings some fun with family and friends. We are all in this together, and let’s bring some summer fun back in our lives. We can all be a collective unit and have some fun at the beach.”
Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.