How some shore towns plan to limit crowds, encourage social distancing

The beach at Belmar for the first time will be monitored for social distancing and, in another first, by drone Memorial Day weekend.

“With COVID-19, it makes sense to have everything at your disposal. All the tools in the toolbox,” said Ed Kirschenbaum, Belmar’s business administrator.

Before the beach badge office opened Friday morning, buyers on the boardwalk practiced social distancing. Belmar has not limited how many daily badges it will sell to limit beachgoers this weekend. But, it’s relying on a team of ambassadors to spread social distancing rules and gentle enforcement.

“In four different sectors we’re just going to ask people to practice social distancing. Of course, taking into consideration family members and household members. So it’s not an exact science here. What you have to do is you have to do a little investigation as you talk to people. That’s all we’re going to do. We’re going to make sure that if one beach gets crowded, we move them to another beach. If we can’t maintain social distancing, we’ll then close the beach down for a little while so we can empty it out and make sure we stay within the guidelines,” Kirschenbaum said.

There was different approach a few blocks north in Bradley Beach.

“Everybody that has a seasonal badge, they’re locked in, so the amount of daily badges that we’re going to sell is going to be based upon, really a calculation that we’ve determined, what is a safe amount of people on the beach. Usually, when I hear a beach is crammed, I’m psyched, I’m happy. Now, if I hear a beach is crammed, I’m concerned,” said Bradley Beach Mayor Gary Engelstad.

Bradley Beach’s mayor says sun, sand and safety go together — so bring your face coverings.

“I think when you look at the numbers, how dramatically they’ve fallen in New Jersey the last couple of weeks, it’s directly related to the increased wearing of masks. We’re not requiring it, but we sure hope people do it,” he said.

The mayor hopes the forecast of cooler weekend weather naturally limits crowds that were huge last weekend in Ocean City. He welcomes beachgoers here, even in New Jersey where the coronavirus has killed more than 10,000 people.

“The balancing act all of us mayor are trying to perform is the ability to provide recreation verses the real threat that there’s a virus out there and over 10,000 people have died. People have somewhat, not so jokingly, referred to me as like the mayor in ‘Jaws’ who says, ‘Well all you care about is getting people in no matter what the risk.’ And that is not where I’m coming from. There is a balancing act we’re trying to perform,” Engelstad said.

Rutgers’ Microbial Oceanographer Kay Bidle says the shore’s winds can dilute the aerosolized virus but also increase the need to practice protection.

“At the shore, what’s different is you often have higher winds. So even a moderately windy day can transport small particles, colloidal particles like viruses and other things in the air, longer distances, right? So you increase this radius of potential transport,” said Bidle.

It’s the unofficial start of summer in a pandemic for the Jersey Shore. So what are businesses anticipating?

“We are expecting a crowd of people but we hope that everybody maintains social distancing and respects others. We hope everyone has a fun and safe time this weekend,” said Playa Bowls employee Emma Turcotte.

It’s a big goal on a holiday weekend in the era of a pandemic.