Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer in the U.S. In a normal year, thousands of people around the D.C. area would be packing up their cars and heading to the beaches, ready to soak up some rays and splash in the surf. But what about during the coronavirus pandemic?
Many of the most popular summer beach destinations in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware — Virginia Beach, Ocean City and Rehoboth, among others — will reopen further for swimming and sunbathing this weekend.
But, beware if you’re planning a typical beach weekend: There will still be some restrictions in place, including physical distancing rules and recommendations to wear masks or other face coverings.
Even with the reopening, the popular Delaware beaches remain off-limits to nearly all visitors from the D.C. area: Out-of-state visitors are expected to self-quarantine for 14 days before hitting the beaches. Delaware state troopers will be stopping travelers along routes usually taken by out-of-state visitors to remind them of the rules.
See more specifics about the rules, requirements and restrictions below:
Ocean City, Maryland
The beaches and boardwalk in Ocean City reopened earlier this month under a declaration from Mayor Rick Meehan.
Last week, Meehan also lifted restrictions on hotel lodgings and short-term rentals. Previously, they were restricted to essential guests only.
Though the beaches and boardwalks are now open for exercising, leisure and relaxation, swimming is not recommended until lifeguards go on duty at 10 a.m. on May 23. Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily throughout the summer.
People are expected to practice social distancing on the beaches, according to the town, and the governor’s order banning groups of 10 or more people remains in effect.
Under Phase One of Maryland’s reopening plan, restaurants are open for takeout and delivery only, and retail stores are open with limited capacity.
Virginia Beach reopens for sunbathing, swimming and surfing May 22. Previously, the beach was only open to exercising and fishing.
Starting this weekend, “People will be able to take their chairs, umbrellas and beach towels and just relax, if that’s their preference,” the city said in a news release.
However, some restrictions remain. Beachgoers are being instructed to keep 6 feet apart from others except for their family members, and groups of more than 10 people are prohibited.
Among the other activities and items still prohibited are
- Group sports (including volleyball, football, Frisbee)
- Tents or groups of umbrellas
- Large coolers
In addition, parking lots and garages will be limited to 50% capacity.
If people don’t follow the rules, or if too many “swarm” the beaches, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has said he will reinstate restrictions or even close the beaches entirely if necessary.
Delaware beaches, including town beaches such as Rehoboth, Lewes, Bethany, and state park beaches, such as Fenwick Island, are all set to reopen May 22 at 5 p.m.
But, if you were planning on making a day trip from D.C., Maryland or Virginia this weekend: Think again. Out-of-state visitors are required to self-quarantine for 14 days before going to the beaches.
A statement last week from Delaware Gov. John Carney’s office said state troopers will be posted along routes typically used by out-of-state travelers. According to the governor’s office, state troopers will be stopping travelers, questioning them and reminding them about the 14-day quarantine.
In addition, a ban on short-term rentals remains in effect.
There will also be additional safety measures on the beaches. People are required to use face coverings while on boardwalks and are encouraged to do so while on the beaches.
In Rehoboth, “beach ambassadors” — seasonal police officers, parking enforcement officers and lifeguards — will be on hand to educate and remind beachgoers about the rules for social distancing and face coverings, said Krys Johnson, Rehoboth’s communications director, in an email to WTOP.
At Lewes Beach, a town police officer will work overtime to cover the beaches instead of having beach ambassadors, according to a report in the Cape Gazette.
Delaware State Park beaches — Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island — are all reopening May 22 but with capacity limits. See more of those limits here.
In addition, though face coverings are only encouraged on the beaches themselves, visitors must bring face coverings with them when entering state parks and they must be worn within state parks in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as in bathhouses, park offices, concession buildings, boat docks, and trails and paths when others are present.