Prepping for Beach Season

Cape May, NJ -  The sunbathers with their beach chairs and beach blankets were back. Who could blame them? It was a gorgeous weekend. Lots of folks ditched their stuffy COVID-19 quarters for a spot on the sand.

If you want to get technical, Cape May allows only walking and jogging and fishing and surfing on the beach. No sitting. For now.

Then Governor Murphy proclaimed last week, “The Jersey Shore will be open in time for Memorial Day weekend with social distancing guidelines in place.”

The announcement got a lot of media play.

The beach-starved heard only one word – open. They rushed in.

The spring coronavirus siege has kept off-season tourists away. Everything’s been closed, a stay-at-home order’s in effect. Even though hotels and rentals don’t open until June, that didn’t stop the pre-Memorial-Day surge.

Some beach visitors sunbathed on the Cape May Promenade benches. They kicked off their shoes. Others jogged, breathing in that clean salt air. It was a glorious afternoon. For a brief moment Saturday, the temperature hit the mid-seventies.

Not to get technical again, but most people on the Promenade didn’t wear face masks.

“As long as I’m six feet away, I don’t have to wear a face mask,” one woman said.

Cape May “encourages” people to wear face masks on the Promenade. The CDC “recommends” people wear face masks in community settings. Governor Murphy orders NJ residents to wear face masks in grocery stores and essential businesses.

But there’s no proclamation, no edict that says you must wear a face mask in public spaces in New Jersey.

Mary, from Staten Island, was shocked at the lack of masks. Like a good New Yorker, she had her face mask on. She was one of the few. Where she lives, face masks are part of day-to-day life.

“I wear mine to protect you and you wear yours to protect me,” she said.

She knew the drill. Mutual protection. Most people don’t get it.

“As long as I’m six feet away from you, I can’t contaminate you,” one man from North Jersey said.

Depends. Without a face mask, his words were leaving little trails of microscopic particles in the breeze, aimed straight at me. I stood back.

While lots of tourists seemed clueless – and mask-less – two local ladies from West Cape May wore their face masks proudly.

Cape May County’s Health Department wants more people to mask up.

Two county volunteers – called Social Ambassadors – were on the Promenade spreading the word and handing out masks. They didn’t scold. Instead, they tried to win people over with gentle persuasion and free hand sanitizer. The Health Department volunteers will spend a couple of hours each day in a different shore town.

They’ll be back in Cape May in two weeks. By then, many more tourists will have arrived.

If the season goes according to plan, 700,000 people a week from different cities and states will flood Cape May County’s beaches and boardwalks. The number can reach one million on peak weekends in the summer.

How many will be wearing face masks?

Now there’s the question.

About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak - a journalist, gardener and Cape Island resident - is writing a book.