OCEAN CITY – It’s uncertain if Ocean City knew state restrictions on certain outdoor activities would be relaxed before the decision was made to reopen the beaches and Boardwalk earlier this week, but it appears to be prophetic.
On Monday, Mayor Rick Meehan amended an emergency declaration that for weeks had closed the beaches and Boardwalk in Ocean City with a few exceptions for local residents. Meehan’s amended declaration called for reopening the beaches and Boardwalk this Saturday, May 9, to the general public as long as state-mandated directives such as social distancing and maximum crowd sizes among others were observed. Meehan’s originally declared the beaches and Boardwalk closed to the public with a few exceptions for local residents back in March with an expiration date of April 30.
However, as the COVID-19 health crisis continued to drag on through April, Meehan amended the declaration with an expiration date of May 15, a date roughly in keeping with the first stage of Hogan’s roadmap to recovery plan for Maryland. On Monday, with the state’s stay-at-home order and other restrictions still firmly in place, Meehan amended the declaration again, opening the beaches to the general public on this Saturday, May 9.
Although it is his prerogative to do so, the mayor’s decision to reopen the beaches and Boardwalk raised eyebrows in some circles because it appeared to fly in the face of some of the state-mandated restrictions still in place. However, on Thursday, Hogan announced while the state is inching closer to stage one of his COVID-19 recovery plan, the numbers weren’t quite there yet. Instead, Hogan announced certain outdoor activities such as boating, fishing and golf, for example could resume effective on Thursday. Hogan also announced beaches at state parks would be reopened.
Hogan said toutdoor activities would now be allowed as long as individuals continued to observe the directives in place including physical distancing, avoiding crowds of 10 or more and other measures aimed at flattening the curve were observed. When questioned later in the press conference about the Ocean City’s decision earlier in the week to open the beaches and Boardwalk, Hogan essentially said he was okay with it as long as citizens continued to observe the other directives still in place.
“We are a little concerned,” he said. “All of this is predicated on Marylanders continuing to follow the health guidelines including physical distancing, avoiding crowds of 10 or more, washing hands and continuing good hygiene practices and wearing masks when possible. Whenever you have more people outside doing most outside activities, we run the risk of more people not doing the things they should and not listening to that kind of advice.”
Hogan said Meehan and resort officials made their decision on Monday of their own volition although he hinted he still held out some reservations about the timing.
“Ocean City made its own decision about opening up,” he said. “We’ve opened up the beaches and we’re encouraging people to walk on the beach and walk on the boardwalks, but crowds of people congregating together and going back to the normal things they would do, I don’t think we’re ready for that yet.”
Hogan pointed out the Boardwalk, technically Atlantic Avenue, did not fall under the state’s directives regarding other outdoor areas and activities.
“The Boardwalk is just like any other street,” he said. “You can walk down it. The mayor decided to close it and then the mayor decided to open it. The businesses aren’t open. He decided a while ago on his own accord that he didn’t want people walking on it. Then, he decided he would let people walk on it. That didn’t have to do with any other order.”