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Delaware beaches to reopen May 22 with distancing

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The Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk will once again see visitors this weekend as the city prepares to reopen to visitors after being locked down. | Photo by Alvin Matthews

Gov. John Carney announced Thursday afternoon that Delaware’s beaches will be fully reopened on May 22 operating under social distancing guidelines, and continuing to urge out-of-state visitors to stay away for now.

Beach restaurants are kept to takeout and delivery service only, meanwhile arcades and short-term rentals are still closed under the state guidelines.

Visitors can rent umbrellas, chairs, and kayaks, as long as vendors disinfect them between use. In addition, community pools now can open at 20% capacity and ice cream shops and trucks can offer takeout service.

Many coastal towns had already decided to reopen its beaches at this point. Rehoboth Beach and Bethany officials decided to reopen the beach and boardwalk for exercise on May 15.

With the state’s 14-day quarantine still in effect and the stay-at-home order still in effect until the end of the month, Carney is pushing for non-residents to stay off the sand.

“I want to be very clear to our friends who want to travel here from outside the state. While we hope one day soon to be able to welcome you to our beaches, that time has not yet come,” Carney said in a press statement Thursday.

It’s going to be a summer like no other in Delaware, as beach-goers are asked to wear masks in public, maintain social distancing and not use water fountains. When restaurants re-open on June 1 tables will have to spaced out and occupancy is reduced to 30%.

Coastal towns are expected to clean railings, benches, and bathrooms multiple times a day. Six-foot intervals will also be marked where there will be lines. The state recommends that resorts find ways to limit capacity like offering day passes on the beach or limiting parking spaces.

Since the state has been under a stay-at-home order since late March, many resort businesses have been concerned about the future as Memorial Day weekend approached.

“This is the best news we’ve had in a long time,” said Carol Everhart, the CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce. “We’re anxious to see what the new guidelines will be, but since we’re a destination, the hospitality industry has been hit hard by this. It’s going to be a longer road.”

It’s been estimated that 70% of businesses in the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce have been closed under Carney’s stay-at-home order issued in late March. In addition, a survey of members conducted by Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce reported that 40% of respondents were closed as well during the shutdown.

Everhart estimated that some beach businesses lost between 50% and 80% of revenue, depending on whether an industry was outright banned under the state of emergency or allowed to have limited operations.

Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism absolutely sees how hotels stand at a disadvantage as beaches reopen.

“I do think a safe, slow opening to a limited capacity can be the way. There’s adjustments that can be made, but hotels can meet the tests,” Thomas said. “This situation has caused the industry to look at how we can do this safely, sooner than later.”

For Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Weaver, small businesses face additional challenges in finding new service vendors and training staff in a social distancing world.

“I don’t think they’ve been given a lot of credit, because it’s been a learning curve in this new normal,” Weaver said. “It’s hard to plan when you’re dealing with the unknown. A lot of these small business owners put blood, sweat and tears into this. They want to do everything they can to save it.”

This weekend will be a test of the new normal in Delaware’s resort communities, as the weather is expected to be sunny with summer-like temperatures.

But at the end of the day, Everhart was confident that businesses will do everything they can to safely reopen for business.

“At some point, you have to realize these are adults and we cannot do everything for them. But we can do everything in our power to be safe,” she said. “If big box stores can do it, so can entrepreneurs and small businesses.”


By Katie Tabeling

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