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Beach towns taking COVID-19 restrictions into their own hands

Katie Tabeling

Bethany Beach officials are requiring people to wear face coverings throughout the commercial districts and the boardwalk. The town ordinance empowers officers to issue civil citations. | PHOTO COURTESY JOSEFINA LACROZE

BETHANY BEACH — Citing overflowing crowds and not enough people wearing masks, the Bethany Beach Council passed a package of ordinances to force slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Bethany Beach Town Council unanimously voted on July 1 to require face masks, covering the nose and the mouth, on the boardwalk, boardwalk plaza, and the downtown commercial area. Those who do not could be fined $50 to $100.

The council also passed new regulations on beachfront parking, with the goal of capping the number of visitors headed to the beach. Specifically, the ordinance reserves 161 metered spaces for residential permitted parking from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“The virus is spreading, and we can do very little to prevent it from spreading. These are the little steps we make,” said Bethany Beach Vice Mayor Rosemary Hardiman. “Our primary goal is the health and welfare of our citizens, but also of our businesses. If this virus spreads and makes us close, the businesses will suffer even more.”

While Gov. John Carney has issued an executive order requiring face coverings in public, Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet argued that it set impossible standards to execute as a criminal citation.

“For compliance, our officers would have to call up the Attorney General’s office, explain the circumstances and see if they approve of an arrest,” he said. “I don’t believe there is a real sincere effort on the part of anybody in state government for there to be any real enforcement of this. They’re not where the rubber hits the road like we are.”

As a civil infraction, Bethany Beach law enforcement officers will be able to issue tickets in the future.

Graviet also noted that there will be parking spaces available on Atlantic Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, the two streets that run parallel to town, but this limits access for those flocking to the beaches. The resident permit period for beachfront parking would revert to metered parking for the general public after 4 p.m.

“I believe there is plenty of parking downtown and that this won’t destroy businesses,” he added. “I understand there’s a significant downturn in businesses, but I think a lot of this is human reaction to COVID. The other side of it is … we have a real obligation to make our beach as safe as possible.”

These decisions come within 24 hours of the Rehoboth Beach City Commissioners mandating face coverings, after seeing a spike of COVID-19 cases traced to the city and Dewey Beach. The beach cases come after teens celebrating Senior Week earlier in June contracted the virus, as well as staff members at beach bars and restaurants.

In terms of enforcement, Rehoboth Beach spokeswoman Krys Johnson said that police officers and lifeguards are still focusing on education during the crisis. One $100 citation has been issued, but the city has handed out 12,000 masks.

“Our officers and lifeguards are doing the best we can, and hopefully we won’t have to issue any more citations,” she said. “In a situation where someone without a face mask walks into a business, you ask them to put it on and hopefully they will comply. If it escalates, that’s where the police would step in. Hopefully it does not get to that point.”

In other efforts to curb crowds at the beach, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has capped parking capacity at 60% at Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island State Parks. Vehicles will be turned away when capacity is reached until the vehicle volume is lowered throughout the day.

-Katie Tabeling


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