Beaches eyed as United States takes steps toward reopening


(Reuters) – Many Americans are expected to flock to beaches on Saturday as one Florida county relaxed restrictions and California braced for a heat wave, even as new cases of the novel coronavirus hit a record high the day before.

Healthcare workers administer a rapid, point of care pinprick coronavirus (COVID-19) IgM and IgG antibodies test at a myCovidMD free testing center for under and uninsured people, founded by three black women doctors, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Volusia County, home to the famed Daytona Beach, opened lots at its coastal parks on Saturday to handicapped visitors, one step in a phased reopening that has so far limited its beaches to those wanting to walk, surf, bike or swim.

The step is warranted by the county’s successful efforts to suppress cases of the virus, George Recktenwald, the county manager, said at a briefing on Friday, although he likened the situation to tapping the brakes on a car going downhill.

“We are starting to let up that brake a little bit but you don’t want to do it too fast because you don’t want to speed out of control,” he said. “If you are on the beach you should be physically active. No sitting, sunbathing or hanging out with a cooler.”

John Overchuck, 45, who lives in a beachfront home with his wife and toddler daughter just south of Daytona Beach in New Smyrna Beach, said it’s “way too soon to do this.”

“I know they have rules and restrictions, but people aren’t listening,” he said.

“I walked on the beach 10 minutes ago and it’s packed. That wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Overchuck, an attorney who has offices in nearby Orlando.

He fears the return of thousands of spring breakers and tourists from across the United States who in normal times are drawn to Smyrna and other county beaches.

Some were already parking cars and pitching tents right on the beach, Overchuck said.

“My family and I are bunkered in, but you’re opening up condos, rentals and bringing in people from all over,” he said. “Who knows if they’ve been taking precautions? … I have a three-year-old. I have to put her first.”

A heat wave brought thousands of Californians to the open beaches in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach on Friday despite stay-at-home orders for people across the state, and similarly large crowds are expected on Saturday.

Governor Gavin Newsom said he expected the state’s beaches to see “a significant increase in volume” due to the very warm weekend, and pleaded for those who visit the shore to practice social distancing.

The move to enjoy the better weather comes after the United States on Friday recorded 36,491 new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, a record daily high, according to a Reuters tally.

More than 911,000 people in the United States have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 52,000 people have died, the tally shows.

Georgia, Oklahoma and some other states took tentative steps to reopen their economies on Friday, despite disapproval from President Donald Trump and warnings from health experts that such moves could rekindle the virus and cause more deaths.

Theo Walker, owner of Golden Anchor Tattoo in Atlanta, said he had put the question of whether to reopen to his artists and they voted yes. He has given them protective equipment and will open for business again on Saturday, after a “straightforward” first day back on Friday, although he had to turn away customers who tried to enter as a group.

“In an ideal world we would have loved to just wait at home until it’s all over, but unfortunately we all have bills that are waiting, and I did not want my artists to suffer anymore,” Walker said. “We all decided it was time to get back to work.”

GRAPHIC: World-focused tracker with country-by-country interactive – here

Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York, and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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