OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ) — Ocean City, Maryland Mayor Rick Meehan said when the beach and boardwalk opens this Saturday, police will not be enforcing the town’s local-only mandate.
Meehan also said beach visitors will also not be required to wear a mask. He said people visiting the beach should, however, follow social distancing and limit groups to 10 people or fewer. Police will be patrolling the beach and boardwalk to remind people to social distance, should they see crowds gathering.
Ocean City closed its beaches in March following the governor’s stay at home order to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The beach town mayor held a press conference Tuesday morning after news broke late Monday about the beaches reopening May 9 after town officials previously said they would reopen on May 15. The mayor made the declaration during the council meeting and said it would be a way for locals to get fresh air and exercise.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some information on the decision to issue the declaration opening the town of Ocean City’s beach, boardwalk, and inlet parking lot effective Saturday, May 9,” Meehan said. “I want to make it clear that this does not supersede any executive orders made by Governor [Larry] Hogan to stay at home. The governor’s [order] is still in effect this does not supersede that. 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.”
But on Tuesday, Meehan said he knows he cannot stop other Marylanders or others from coming into Ocean City. He just hopes people are responsible.
“The declaration open Ocean City’s beach and boardwalk and then the parking lot on Saturday, May 9 is simply to give away for individuals have more opportunities to go outside, enjoy the fresh air, while still adhering to all social distancing guidelines and gathering limits,” Meehan said. “None of that has changed, nonessential businesses along the boardwalk will continue to be closed until that order was lifted by the governor. The only thing that will really be open on the boardwalk will be some of the carryout restaurants.”
— Mike Hellgren (@HellgrenWJZ) May 5, 2020
On those who live elsewhere and have Ocean City vacation homes, Meehan said second homeowners have a right to be in their property.
However, things will not be the same for those who do visit. Hotels and short-term rentals will still only be available to essential workers and restaurants will only offer carryout.
The mayor believes opening Saturday will allow for the town to transition from its off-season to on-season crowds.
“Right now there are not very many people in Ocean City, and even with this we do not anticipate a lot of people in Ocean City, but there will be some additional visitors. This will allow for people coming over to Ocean City and this will allow us to make that transition,” he said. “You know phased recovery is what we are trying to abide to. We support the governor’s recovering program we’re trying to work cohesively with that. I think the governor has put us in a position by issuing all his orders early on that we’re able now to take this next step here in Ocean City, what we see and what I see as what I go up to the boardwalk is that people are adhering to the new normal.”
Meehan doesn’t believe crowds will flock to Ocean City this weekend.
“I don’t really think that’s what’s gonna happen,” Meehan said. “You know we’re only at the first weekend in May, and typically even in this time of year in our crowds are much smaller than they’re going to be as you get into the end of the month or into June and particularly into July.”
Lodging restrictions that Ocean City issued for hotels and short term rentals are still in effect and those have extended those restrictions through May 22. He said people visiting won’t have a place to stay with hotels and condos closed in the area.
Lifeguards will also not be on duty until Memorial Day as in previous years.
“There will be no police officers patrolling for license plates. I don’t believe that’s done has been done throughout the state of Maryland, anywhere, and that’s not going to be the case here in Ocean City,” the mayor said. “We do expect people to come from the surrounding areas.”
When pressed again about requirements to wear masks, Meehan said he encourages people to wear a mask if they feel safer.
“There’s no requirement in the state to wear masks in public at this time,” he said. “We certainly want to encourage people if they would feel more comfortable. That’s a personal decision.”
He said the town will be posting signs about social distancing at the entrances of the beach and boardwalk.
“The police presence and being able to converse with people, to give them instructions or at least to bring to their attention when they may not be properly distance, we’re going to continue to do those things. You know voluntary compliance is what we’ve all been looking for,” Meehan said. “I think we’ve seen a great deal of that this won’t succeed nationwide without voluntary compliance. You can’t patrol everywhere. You can’t be everywhere and as I said before that I think a great majority of the people are adhering to these regulations, and I think they will continue to do so.”
When asked if he believes opening the beach Saturday is a violation of the governor’s orders, Meehan said, “I don’t think it’s in violation of any of the general orders enacted by the governor, because we are not encouraging we are not asking anyone to supersede the travel restrictions that are in place.”
Hogan’s office did not push back on the move.“This is a way to give nearby residents more opportunities to get outside and enjoy fresh air while still adhering to social distancing guidelines and gathering limits. The governor’s stay-at-home order remains in effect,” communications managers for Hogan and the Town of Ocean City said in a joint statement late Monday night.
Ocean City is the first beach in the Mid-Atlantic region to reopen. Rehoboth Beach in nearby Delaware had to remove public benches to enforce their beach and boardwalk closures through May 15. Bethany Beach in Delaware will remain closed until June 1.
However, in New Jersey, Stone Harbor and Avalon beaches will reopen Friday.
“The goal of Ocean City has always been for everybody to arrive here safely, be safe while they’re here and return home safely. That has not changed and will not change. So we are moving forward. We believe this phase opening is the right thing to do,” he added.
Statewide, while Maryland’s hospitalization numbers have remained stable, on Tuesday, the state tied its daily record for deaths at 74.
— Mike Hellgren (@HellgrenWJZ) May 5, 2020
There are so many bodies, an ice rink in Laurel has been turned into a temporary morgue.