Do The Beaches Still Belong To Everyone In The Midst of A Pandemic?

Published on June 30, 2020

People usually think of beaches as places of fun and sunshine where everyone can go to have a good time. With the 4th of July weekend coming up, many will likely flock to the beaches in states like California and Florida to get out of the house and celebrate.

Normally, this would be a mild annoyance to locals, but a predictable and unavoidable part of living by the ocean. This year, however, tourists— and what they bring with them — present a new set of challenges.

The United States is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the country has begun reopening, cases are rising at an alarming rate. Americans have had enough of staying at home, and people are desperate to resume some semblance of a normal life. The problem is, while we may be done with the pandemic, the pandemic is far from done with us.

The 4th of July weekend is now upon us, and it seems unlikely that Americans are going to celebrate at home. Instead, tourists living in proximity to beach towns will flock to the coasts to eat, drink, and be merry on the sand.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the beaches have been an issue, especially for those living in the area. Beaches are public places that are free and available to everyone. Since the beach is outside and often breezy, some have argued that beaches are safe places to enjoy despite the pandemic.

A Case Study

Half Moon Bay is a small town in California that Bay Area tourists love for it’s beaches. In March, the town closed it’s parking lots and public bathrooms in an attempt to limit tourist traffic in the area. The results were semi disastrous. People came anyway, parked in neighborhoods, and used private bushes as their bathrooms.

Since community leaders reversed that decision and reopened lots and bathrooms, every day is a weekend day. Traffic is at an all-time high and tourists flock to the beaches every day. With the holiday approaching, and COVID-19 cases rising, residents are terrified that even larger influxes of people celebrating the 4th of July will have potentially deadly effects on the small town.

One Nextdoor poster went as far as to suggest shutting down the entire town in response to the potential threat.

Image via Half Moon Bay Nextdoor

Responses varied from wholehearted support to valid questions about the logistics. Many gave reasoned arguments about how beaches are public territory and not simply the domain of coastal residents.

The Solution

What is happening in Half Moon Bay is a reflection of what is happening on beaches across the country. Residents of beach towns have valid concerns about safety and how tourism could potentially impact their communities. However, beaches are public domain. Pandemic or no pandemic, there is little these communities can practically and logistically do to keep people off of the beaches. That is, without creating terrible unintended consequences for the problems they were theoretically trying to solve.

The solution goes far beyond the beaches and closing off small towns. The solution is a widespread public information campaign that inspires Americans to take this virus seriously. Other countries have a handle on the virus and have been able to resume some sense of normal life. But the United States continues to flounder. With so much conflicting information from government officials, people are frustrated and confused. What we need is not a privatization of beaches. It’s a united front against COVID-19.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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