Unsure at the Jersey Shore — COVID-19 closing in on summer
No matter what pandemic recovery decisions are made by officials in the days or weeks ahead, a typical summer season at the Jersey Shore is highly unlikely, says Asbury Park Mayor John Moor.
"We're all crossing our fingers we can get open as much as possible, as soon as possible," Moor told New Jersey 101.5. "I don't think this summer will be normal whatsoever."
Even if beaches and boardwalks — and the adjacent businesses — were miraculously given the green light to reopen, Moor's not sure how many people would actually show up to use them, due to potential fears of a COVID-19 resurgence.
"Like a lot of other towns, we have contingency plans from A to Z," Moor said. "A's opening up as regular and that's not going to happen, and Z's closed, and nobody wants that to happen."
Summer may be approaching too quickly for many coastal towns and businesses, as they wait for the public health crisis to ship out and make room for the droves of visitors they typically handle from May through September.
Like many businesses throughout the state, boardwalk piers and arcades along the shore have been ordered closed for public health reasons. Morey's Piers & Resorts in the Wildwoods has postponed opening day until at least Memorial Day Weekend, based on current executive orders from Gov. Phil Murphy concerning stay-at-home rules, social distancing and short-term rentals. Opening day had already been pushed back from Easter weekend to Mother's Day weekend.
Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach was hopeful for a Memorial Day Weekend relaunch, but is now anticipating the actual date will be later than May 25 — likely with a number of mandates still in place, along with voluntary measures, to help stem the spread of the virus.
"Most likely we will all be wearing masks or face coverings," said Toby Wolf with Jenkinson's. "We may be open at a decreased capacity and there will be rolling attractions closures throughout operating hours for extra cleaning."
Once the stay-at-home order is lifted and non-essential businesses can reopen, Casino Pier in Seaside Heights will be "more than ready to open," a spokesperson said — the pier anticipates closures will last past May 15, which is anticipated by many businesses as a "re-evaluation" day for New Jersey.
"I've been a strong advocate and I've voiced my opinion to mayors that we should not open until the restriction of stay-at-home is lifted," said Seaside Heights Mayor Tony Vaz. "We need the income, obviously. But we need to be healthy. We don't want to go through this again."
Many shore towns have closed their beaches and/or boardwalks to the public. Local officials have tossed around the day of reopening these sites to residents only.
On Wednesday, Murphy announced the signing of an executive order that reopens state parks on May 2. The order allows golf courses and county parks to do the same. Two days prior, Murphy outlined a plan for restoring New Jersey's economy, which would only be possible once a number of coronavirus-related benchmarks are met. Murphy stopped short of suggesting specific dates.
"This is an open-ended problem right now," said Tim McLoone, who owns a number of New Jersey restaurants along the water. "No one knows the answer to any of this."
Whenever his businesses can open their doors to seated customers, McLoone said, it's expected they'll have to operate at limited capacity. That's not ideal for an industry that runs on a profit margin of 8 to 12%, he said.
"If it gets to the point where it's people sitting two by two and you can't talk to anybody, I think that people are not going to be terribly interested," McLoone said.
Many shore communities rely on foreign workers, who travel here on temporary visas over the summer, to help staff piers, restaurants and other businesses. A second article will examine the employment struggles along New Jersey's coastline in the face of the global pandemic.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.