The entire Jersey Shore will be open for Memorial Day weekend – the start of the summer season – Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Thursday, as the state slowly lifts restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“The data tells us we can make this announcement now, after months at home,” Murphy said at his daily COVID-19 press conference in Trenton. “I know many families cannot wait for a day either down the shore or alongside one of our lakes.”
Statewide restrictions have been slowly rolled back recently, or at least under consideration to be, as the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities all trend downward.
New Jersey has roughly 127 miles of beaches, from the Sandy Hook peninsula to the Cape May Lighthouse. Most of that is owned by local towns and cities, save for Island Beach State Park which is owned by New Jersey, and Sandy Hook Beach, which is owned by the National Park Service and U.S. Coast Guard.
Beaches will have to restrict the number of people allowed. Social distancing – a 6-foot minimum distance – will be enforced for beachgoers, with exceptions for for families and household members, caretakers and romantic couples.
Masks will be encouraged, but not required.
To cut capacity, towns could limit the number of beach tags available, or roll out some kind of online or mobile reservation system, Murphy said.
“No one will be discriminated against. No community can turn a public beach into a de facto private beach,” the governor cautioned.
Special events such as contact sports like beach volleyball, concerts, summer camps, and fireworks – the latter of which are commonly held along the shore during Memorial Day and the Fourth of July – cannot be held.
Bars and dine-in restaurants are still barred, and can only offer take-out and delivery. Waterparks, rides, play areas, games, arcades and picnic areas all have to remain closed, Murphy said.
Bathrooms, showers and changing rooms can open, as can those at county and state parks.
“It won’t be the old normal, but can we get some semblance of a new normal on the shore by the time Memorial Day weekend comes around? I’m going to say yes,” the governor said earlier in the week.
“That’s not to say that we’re still not going to take an economic hit, that stuff still won’t be closed,” he added. “My heart is broken over it.”
The order goes into effect on May 22, to give shore towns time to prepare for the new guidelines and restrictions, the governor said.
Starting the morning of May 18, non-essential retailers can open, but only for curbside pickup. That could mark a relief to many shops that line boardwalks, which often sell gift shop products and beach accessories like towels, chairs, and other sundries.
“By opening up small businesses to curbside … it adds relief to such a burden to these mom and pop shops,” Cape May County Freeholder Leonard Desiderio said at the Thursday press conference. “This is a shot in the arm to them.”