By Cayla Bamberger
Summer season is in full swing, which means an influx of beachgoers to the East End. The congested parking lots and throngs of beach towels and chairs are hardly novel — but this summer, rather than a mere annoyance, large crowds at the beach pose a public health concern amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With the Fourth of July already passed, full-time and seasonal residents and renters reflect on the protocols that make them feel safe, and wonder if a surge of beach-goers could entail a second wave of COVID-19.
Lyss Stern, a mother of three, has been quarantined with her family in Montauk, where she frequents Ditch Plains Beach. Even while spread out on the sand, Ms. Stern is conscious of social distancing. Although she and her husband have already had the virus, her children tested negative for antibodies and she recognizes her immunity will not last forever.
Ms. Stern’s youngest child is her 6-year-old daughter Blake, who she encourages to keep her distance on the beach — and on the vendor line for ice cream.
“Especially when you have young children, you really have to keep your eye on them,” she said.
“Everybody wants to be together — play together, swim together,” she added. “But parents really need to do their due diligence.”
Emme Luck, a young professional who grew up in Sag Harbor, returned to quarantine with family and has been visiting the beach, often Sagg Main. To date, she’s felt safe on the sand, but she worries more people will visit the beach following this holiday weekend.
“July Fourth, I think, could be a huge issue,” she said last week, and wondered out loud if the ramifications of this weekend might resemble virus spikes after Memorial Day celebrations around the country.
But Ms. Luck takes comfort in the many protocols instituted on East End beaches. Masks are required in the parking lot, in the bathroom and on concession stand lines — and for the most part, sunbathers seem to abide the rules, said Ms. Luck. She also noted that there was a lifeguard monitoring, and at one point, a Southampton Police officer passed by on a four-wheeler ATV.
Ms. Luck also proposed a solution to potential overcrowding: “I think they could spread the swim zone a little larger,” she said, to encourage loungers to spread out, too.
Other precautions that East End towns have already taken include social distancing guidelines, which require beach-goers to maintain at least 6 feet of space from anyone not living in their residence. Daily beach parking is on hold, and no non-resident beach permits will be issued until further notice.
Many beaches have also increased the frequency of bathroom cleaning, banned all contact sports and sports that involve a shared object (such as a Frisbee or volleyball), and implemented designated walking lanes, entrances and exits.
Most beachgoers on the East End have been receptive to the rules.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people are very thankful for what we’re doing,” said John Ryan Jr., the chief lifeguard in East Hampton. “But it’s just very difficult when someone gives a lifeguard a hard time.”
Mr. Ryan emphasized that everyone’s on the same team: “We’re helping you keep these beaches open,” he said. “We’re doing it for you.”
Riley Connor, an East End visitor in his 20s who worked at Salt on Shelter Island for three summers, hasn’t found the guidance difficult to follow. Once he’s settled on his towel, “It usually slips my mind that we’re in this situation,” he said.
And at least so far, Mr. Connor has been pleasantly surprised to find his favorite beaches relatively empty. On a recent boat ride off the coast of Shelter Island, “Usually you can see a lot of umbrellas and crowds,” he noted, “but we didn’t really see anyone”
Some East Enders have chosen to forego the most popular beaches, to avoid the largest crowds.
“I don’t go to the really big beaches — Indian Wells, Sagg Main, Atlantic, Main,” said Becca Kupershmid, a college student from East Hampton. “I just go to a lot of bay beaches by my house.”
And when on the beach, Ms. Kupershmid remains vigilant and responsible. “I just stay in my area,” she said, “and stay as far away from other people as possible.”