Long week­end stokes re­bound fears

Amer­i­cans tempted out­side as pop­u­lar pub­lic spa­ces re­open

Baltimore Sun - - CORONAVIRU­S OUTBREAK - By Ben Finley, Carla K. John­son and Michael Biesecker

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are set to emerge from coro­n­avirus lock­downs and take ten­ta­tive steps out­doors to cel­e­brate Memo­rial Day week­end at beaches, cook­outs and fam­ily gath­er­ings, raising con­cern among pub­lic health of­fi­cials that large gath­er­ings could cause out­breaks to come roar­ing back.

Med­i­cal ex­perts warn that the virus won’t take a hol­i­day for the tra­di­tional start of sum­mer. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion con­tin­ues to rec­om­mend that peo­ple stay home, avoid crowds and connect with fam­ily and friends by phone or video chat.

Dr. Seth Co­hen, an in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton Med­i­cal Cen­ter-North­west in Seat­tle, ad­vised that peo­ple who do cel­e­brate keep their distance from one an­other, wear masks and avoid shar­ing food and drinks.

“Punch bowls. Na­chos. These things are a no-no,” Co­hen said.

The hol­i­day week­end ar­rives amid the bleak­est econ­omy in decades. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple have been thrown out of work since the virus hit hard in March and forced busi­nesses, in­clud­ing many pop­u­lar sum­mer des­ti­na­tions, to shut down at least tem­po­rar­ily. Un­em­ploy­ment has reached its high­est level since the Great De­pres­sion, and on Thurs­day, Fed­eral Re­serve Chair Jerome Pow­ell warned that prospects for a re­cov­ery will re­main un­clear un­til the health cri­sis is solved.

Many long-run­ning Memo­rial Day com­mem­o­ra­tions of the nation’s fallen mil­i­tary he­roes have been can­celed or down­sized, in­clud­ing concerts and fire­works shows. Parks, beaches, camp­grounds and swim­ming pools re­main closed in much of the coun­try

But plenty of pop­u­lar pub­lic spa­ces will be open — with re­stric­tions.

In Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia, the famed 40-block board­walk and sandy shore­line is open be­gin­ning Fri­day, but peo­ple must stay 6 feet from non­fam­ily mem­bers, with groups lim­ited to 10 or fewer. Group sports such as vol­ley­ball will be pro­hib­ited, along with tents and al­co­hol con­sump­tion.

Mayor Bobby Dyer said about 150 “beach am­bas­sadors” in red shirts will be de­ployed to “diplo­mat­i­cally”. ask peo­ple to fol­low the rules.

In the ab­sence of clear fed­eral guid­ance, it’s largely been left to state and lo­cal of­fi­cials to fig­ure out how to cel­e­brate the hol­i­day safely. So­cial dis­tanc­ing rules and bans on mass gath­er­ings re­main in place through­out much of the coun­try.

Keep­ing hol­i­days safe is a quandary be­ing faced by au­thor­i­ties around the globe. On the same week­end as Memo­rial Day, the Mus­lim world will mark the fast-break­ing fes­ti­val Eid alFitr. On Mon­day, U.K. res­i­dents get a bank hol­i­day.

Dr. Wil­liam Schaffner, an in­fec­tious dis­eases ex­pert at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity, warned that be­ing on hol­i­day can lead some peo­ple to drop their guard and “just re­lax into their pre-COVID be­hav­iors.”

“They for­get to wear masks,” Schaffner said.

“They’re not so keen on 6-foot dis­tanc­ing.”

On the Jer­sey Shore, beaches will be open but with so­cial dis­tanc­ing manda­tory. There will be no fire­works, Fer­ris wheel rides, roller coast­ers, gokarts or board­walk ar­cade games. At­lantic City’s casi­nos re­main closed.

Some lo­cals plan to sit this sum­mer out, fear­ful that vis­i­tors from harder-hit ar­eas such as New York City might bring the virus with them.

“The un­for­tu­nate thing is that all the out-of-town peo­ple have been cooped up the same amount of time that the lo­cals have been here,” said Chris­tine Barthelme of Point Pleas­ant, New Jer­sey. “My fam­ily will do mostly what we do on every hol­i­day week­end here: Re­lax in our back­yard, have a bar­be­cue and light the fire pit.”

Beaches, ho­tels and restau­rants re­main largely shut down in South Florida, an­other pop­u­lar hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. The an­nual Ur­ban Beach Week fes­ti­val, which typ­i­cally draws tens of thou­sands to Mi­ami Beach for a se­ries of hiphop and reg­gae shows, was called off for this Memo­rial Day.

“We saw what hap­pened in early March with spring break crowds,” Mi­ami Beach Mayor Dan Gel­ber said, recalling the rau­cous scenes of young peo­ple par­ty­ing in close quar­ters de­spite the bur­geon­ing pan­demic. “We will do what we need to if there’s crowds. It’s not a good thing to have in a pan­demic.”

But up the coast in Palm Beach County, which is home to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago re­sort, of­fi­cials were pre­par­ing for beach­go­ers to hit the sand over Memo­rial Day.

“Our ocean life­guards and other parks staff will be mon­i­tor­ing the beaches and re­mind­ing park users to prac­tice so­cial dis­tanc­ing,” said Chris Kor­be­lak, pub­lic en­gage­ment man­ager for the county parks depart­ment.

Theme parks are closed at Walt Dis­ney World and Uni­ver­sal Orlando, but both have re­opened their en­ter­tain­ment and restau­rant com­plexes. Guests can ex­pect manda­tory mask us­age, hand-san­i­tiz­ing sta­tions and other mea­sures.

There have been more than 1.5 mil­lion con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases in the United States, with over 95,000 deaths, ac­cord­ing to a tally by Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity.

CHARLES KRUPA/AP

Beach­go­ers re­lax on the shore Fri­day at Good Har­bor Beach in Glouces­ter, Mas­sachusetts.

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