With beaches and the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, set to reopen this weekend, visitors from out of the area are encouraged to continue following a statewide stay-at-home order — but police will not be checking license plates or otherwise restricting visitors to one of the state’s most popular summer destinations, Mayor Rick Meehan said Tuesday.
Meehan said his declaration reopening the beaches and boardwalk on May 9 does not supersede Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home directive ordered last month to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
“At this time, you should only travel to Ocean City if doing so would not be in violation of the governor’s specific stay-at-home order,” Meehan said during a news briefing Tuesday morning.
But the mayor said he still expected some visitors from outside the Ocean City area would still travel there when the beaches reopen.
“Quite honestly, they’ve probably been coming here already,” he said.
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A statement issued Monday night by a spokesman for Hogan indicated the beach and boardwalk reopening would be limited to nearby residents.
Speaking Tuesday, Meehan said there were no plans to enforce nonresidents from visiting the beach.
“There will be no police officers patrolling for license plates,” Meehan said. “I don’t believe that’s been done throughout the state of Maryland, anywhere, and that’s not going to be the case here in Ocean City.”
Instead, he stressed voluntary compliance with the stay-at-home order and called on people to “do the right thing.”
Meehan said beachgoers and people on the boardwalks will still have to practice social distancing. Police officers will be on patrol to educate visitors on keeping safe distance and to keep large crowds from forming.
Masks will not be required, Meehan said, since there is no statewide requirement to wear masks in public.
“We certainly would encourage people if they would feel more comfortable. That’s a personal decision … Everybody has to make their own personal decisions right now,” he said.
The beaches were originally set to reopen May 15, but Meehan said he decided to move up the reopening to have a transitional period before the start of the traditional summer season, which generally begins Memorial Day weekend and kicks into high gear in June and July.
“We’re going to have to see, now, early on … what problems we may need to address so that we can continue to keep people safe and move forward,” Meehan said of managing potential crowds.
He added, “We want to work our way towards larger crowds. And we think this will give us an opportunity to do so.”
Meehan said waiting to reopen the beaches until later in the summer would likely see the beaches swamped with people.
“The numbers of people would just be above and beyond what we could handle in order to get a true gauge on how this is going to work and how it’s going to play out,” Meehan said.
Most shops along the boardwalk will remain closed, since Hogan’s order shuttering nonessential businesses remains in effect. Some food vendors that are offering carryout services are still open, Meehan said.
Reopening the beaches and the boardwalks allows people to get out for fresh air, Meehan said.
“It’s going to be people riding bikes; it’s going to be people walking the boardwalk. It’s going to be people out there in small groups with their families just getting out to go out onto the beach,” he said.
In addition, hotel reservations and rentals remain paused — except for “essential lodgers” — until May 22. However, hotels can begin taking reservations for the popular Memorial Day weekend.
WTOP’s Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.