Coronavirus News: New York state beaches welcome COVID-weary residents for Memorial Day weekend

LONG ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- In New York, state beaches will be open to the public this Memorial Day weekend, even as New York City beaches remain closed.

Jones Beach and the beach at Robert Moses State Park both opened at 6 a.m. Friday and will remain open until 9 p.m., but there are restrictions.

Ground rules:
*Swimming is being allowed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
*No group contact activities, including sports like volleyball and football
*Areas of social gathering are closed, including designated picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions
*No concessions
*Social distancing measures are being enforced

Face coverings are required to be worn by all employees and visitors when social distancing is not possible, and beaches are limited to 50% capacity.

Beachgoers were surprised at the smaller than normal crowds for the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

"We thought it was going to be full right now," New York City resident Michael Cruz said. "They were saying a lot of people were going to be here early in the line, lined up, so we left the house super early, 3:30 in the morning from Brooklyn."

By mid-day, only a few dozen people had gathered on the beach. Most people strolled or biked on the boardwalk.

New York State Police officers as well as New York State Parks officers and public safety rangers patrolled the boardwalk making sure people were wearing masks and social distancing.

"Our goal is just to be a constant reminder during the day to people to act appropriately," said Erik Kulleseid, the commissioner of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Signs on the boardwalk reminded people to stay six feet apart, and signs on the beach asked people to place blankets more than 10 feet apart.

"I think it's great to have the beaches open, but I hope that everybody does the right thing and stays social distance," Theresa Giganti said.

In the parking lots, orange cones blocked off every other space in order to ensure 50% capacity. The parking lots, however, were empty.

"There's not that many people out here," Baldwin resident Pyrrhus Dasque said. "We were thinking there would be a lot more being that the weather is nice and everything."

Concession stands remain closed, and the main promenade at the beach now has a large hand sanitizing station. Smaller hand sanitizing stations are located at many of the beach entrances.

Lifeguards are also social distancing by sitting in separate chairs.

One big reason for the capacity limits were due to the expected influx of New York City residents, because beaches there will not open for swimming this weekend.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said beachgoers can be on the sand but must be socially distanced, and the NYPD will be patrolling popular places like Coney Island.

"If there's too many people at any point, any place, we're going to do what we've said we're going to do," de Blasio said. "We will keep spreading people out, but if we have to send people off the beach, off the boardwalk, if we have to reduce the number of people, we'll do that."

The mayor is also threatening to fence off the entrances to city beaches.

Many locally run beaches, including the Nassau County-operated Nickerson Beach, have been restricted to residents only to discourage an influx of city dwellers.

CLICK HERE for more on what beaches are open in the Tri-State Area.

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