If you plan to head to the beach this Memorial Day, don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, towel and face mask.
The state is increasing access to beaches starting May 25 under Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan. There are new guidelines in place. So, going to the beach is going to be very different this summer.
How different? Well, here are answers to some questions you might have about hitting the beach.
What safety rules do I need to follow at the beach this summer?
First off, if you’re sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, don’t go to the beach. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation also recommends that people over 70 and those who are part of a vulnerable population don’t go to the beach.
If you’re at the beach, keep at least six feet away from people as you move around. And under the state guidelines, you should set up your towels, chairs or blankets 12 feet away from other beachgoers.
Some beaches may also implement additional safety measures.
“On some of our bigger beaches, we've actually made one-way traffic to and from the beach. On places where the trails are narrower, we've actually divided it into an entry and exit side,” said Brewster natural resources director Chris Miller. He adds that they’ve expanded handicap accessible pathways and put up fences to divide them, so people don’t come too close to each other.
It’s also worth noting that groups of more than 10 people are not allowed on beaches. And organized games are prohibited on the beach. So, leave your ball or frisbee at home.
What should I bring? Do I need to wear a face mask at the beach?
Yes. Masks are required in all public places when physical distancing is not possible. That’s a state order that applies to everyone over age 2. So you’ll want to bring a mask or face covering to the beach for those moments when you can’t keep your distance. And it’s worth noting: Masks are not required to be worn while swimming.
You should also bring hand sanitizer to use in case soap and water are not available, according to the CDC. And you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of water on hand because water fountains and water refill stations will remain closed during phase one of the state’s reopening plan.
Are only ocean-front beaches opening? What about ponds and lakes?
The state is expanding access to all beaches — that includes ocean-front beaches and inland beaches at ponds and lakes.
What about parking at beaches? What are the rules?
That depends on the beach. You can expect some beaches to limit parking in order to manage crowds and ensure proper distancing on the beach — especially at small beaches where there just isn’t a lot of room. Some places, like Crane Beach in Ipswich, already have limited entry and won’t be open to the general public until after June 3.
It’s still pretty early in the season, so parking may not be an issue yet at state beaches. But you may start to see more restrictions put in place as more and more people head to the beach this summer, according to Bruce Berman of the advocacy group Save The Harbor/Save the Bay.
“If you're heading to the beach and you find yourself in a traffic jam, you should probably find another place to go," Berman said. “Because what it means is that there's going to be so many people on the beach that social distancing and the other sensible things that we have to do to protect ourselves and our communities aren't happening.”
It’s also worth noting that shuttle services to beaches are closed for phase one of the reopening.
Will some beaches offer changing stations?
No. At least, not yet. Changing facilities and indoor showers will be closed during phase one of the state’s reopening plan.
What if I have to go to the bathroom?
Well, this may be tricky. DCR says bathhouses and restrooms at many state beaches and parks will remain closed for Memorial Day Weekend. The closures will be reassessed the following weekend, according to DCR. Some beaches will have port-a-potties available.
There are now additional cleaning and disinfecting guidelines for opening public restrooms and some beaches may not be ready yet, according to Berman. He says the guidelines may take time to implement and require some changes to how bathrooms are staffed.
So, be prepared: There may not be bathrooms available at some beaches.
Will there be lifeguards on duty?
There likely won’t be lifeguards at beaches — at least not yet. DCR says it expects to start staffing lifeguards and adding other beach services (ropes, buoys, flags, etc.) in June.
When there is a lifeguard on duty, you should maintain a six feet away from them and their lifeguard stand, unless there’s an emergency.
What happens if I break the rules?
Under the governor’s order, there could be criminal penalties or fines for violating the guidelines. And some towns may issue warnings to people. But officials are hoping it doesn’t come to all of that. They want people to regulate themselves and follow the guidelines so everyone can enjoy the beach this summer.
“This all goes back to kind of what we all learned in kindergarten. If we all work together, we could still go out to recess. But if we don't, they're not going to let us,” said Erika Woods, the deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment.
Many beaches will have signs up reminding people of the safety guidelines. And if things do get out of control, you may start to see some restrictions implemented on some beaches.
How should I handle a situation where people aren't social distancing from me or my loved ones?
It may be best for you to pack it up and leave — or move to another spot on the beach. The CDC says don’t visit places where you can’t maintain proper distance between you and others.
“My approach is to simply say, 'please show us some respect. Give us some distance.' And if there's pushback, then for me to move because I don't want to have a confrontation. I want to enjoy the beach,” Berman said.
If things are getting out of hand, Woods said people can talk to beach staff or call their local board of health.
“This is something that is for everyone's safety. It's not to make things complicated,” Woods said. “So, our first goal is going to educate. Ask them to please follow the rules for the safety of others. And we're really hoping that that will end there.”
This segment aired on May 22, 2020.
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