“No swimming, no parties, no sports, no gatherings.” On May 17, 2020, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the City will not open its beaches for swimming on Memorial Day weekend or in the foreseeable future. The Mayor explained during a press conference that despite this decision, people will be permitted to walk the beach so as long as they do not congregate. This weekend and going forward, beach patrons can expect a NYPD and Parks Department presence to enforce these measures. Closed sections of the beach will also be marked with signs and red flags.
Mayor de Blasio sympathized with those looking forward to the start of summer, stating “We’re feeling the seasons changing. We all want to be out there. We all also understand we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we have to do things differently. The idea here is to put health and safety first. No one has to be reminded, we are the epicenter of this national crisis with the coronavirus.”
On the decision to close, de Blasio simply stated, “it is not safe,” adding, “We thought long and hard about it but continuing to watch our indicators which don’t have use where we need to be yet, we are going to be very smart and careful about this. So, what’s going to happen is we are going to take it week and day at a time to figure out where we’re going.” Mayor de Blasio pointed out that he has not ruled out the possibility of beaches open later this summer, but New York City is not ready yet. Quite plainly stating that he does not want to see a spread of the disease “after all the progress we’ve made.”
Some in the beach communities do not believe the Mayor is doing quite enough. Council Member Mark Treyger who represents Coney Island, Gravesend, and Seagate, is calling for the Mayor to issue a more expansive summer safety plan. Treyger stated “we cannot wait until the first day of summer—June 20—to have a summer safety plan. It is dangerous and unlawful for any person to go into the water when beaches are closed and swimming is unauthorized. There are no lifeguards while the beaches are still closed. It also places further strain on emergency workers already dealing with pandemic. On Coney Island and Brighton Beach we want to make sure our people our safe and that our small business community can survive. We need a plan that’s workable, feasible and is supported by strong science and public health experts.”
Alexandra Silversmith, Executive Director of the Alliance for Coney Island, stated, “We are disappointed in the decision to close beaches for swimming but hope that in the coming weeks the City will train lifeguards and open them. Beaches are critical outdoor space and can allow for proper social distancing, just like parks. We believe the respite from the summer heat is much needed for New York families, especially with playgrounds closed and limited cooling options. Safety is paramount, and we believe there is a high risk of drowning without officially opening the beaches in a safe and secure manner.” Silversmith also expressed concern about the economic ramifications in an area still financially recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
Adam Gasner, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks stated, “New Yorkers got good news in time for the unofficial launch of summer: Mayor de Blasio is opening beaches to the public. While New Yorkers won’t yet be able to swim, they will be able to relax and enjoy the beautiful outdoors…Now we’re calling on the city to follow the state’s example and put together a clear and equitable plan for opening swimming at City Beaches.”
Crystal Howard, spokesperson for the Parks Department, stated that Parks Department stands by the Mayor’s comments. The Parks Department maintains nearly 14 miles of New York City beaches.
For New York City-specific COVID-19 updates, the City established an information site with updates from all major administrative agencies. Agencies include the Department of Buildings, City Planning, Citywide Administrative Services, the Department of Finance and the Department of Transportation among others. You can find that page here.
By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)