New CDC guidelines bring renewed hope for Long Beach

By Alexander Wilenski

After its more than year-long directive to stay masked and socially distanced, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said May 13 that anyone who has been fully vaccinated can now resume outdoor activities and many indoor activities without a mask. The masks can come off two weeks afer the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

In Long Beach, people flocked to the boardwalk and to the sandy shores of Ocean Beach Park over the weekend, where it looked like everything was back to normal. “It looks like the beach season is here,“ Richie Weinstein, of Long Beach, said.

The sense of normalcy brought by the new CDC guidelines garnered positive reviews among those walking the boardwalk. ”It’s liberating,” Ron Susser said. “I’m very optimistic, especially for my town. We got a lot of summer people that are tourists, a lot of day trippers. Our restaurants need their help, so I’m thrilled they’re back.”

Even though people can still soak up the sun on the boardwalk and on the sand, they are not yet allowed to swim in the Atlantic. Ocean Beach Park will open May 29, when lifeguards will be on duty.

As masks start to come off, some people say it’s about time. “I’m tired of it,” Patty Sullivan said. “I’ve been vaccinated. I think it’s good if you’re indoors, but outside I don’t really think you need it.”

The masks are coming off in Long Beach, sometimes in places that they shouldn’t. // Photo by Alexander Wilenski/Long Island Advocate

Not everyone has been vaccinated yet, however. According to the New York State vaccine tracker website, 41.6 percent of New Yorkers had completed their vaccine series as of May 16. In Nassau County, 47.5 percent of people are were fully vaccinated.

 Chart showing vaccination rates in Nassau County//Chart by CovidActNow using New York State data

“Not everybody is [vaccinated], and that’s the problem,” Sullivan said. “Some people just got one shot. Are they going to go back for the other?”

The vaccination effort is seen by many as a success. “ More or less, I think we actually did a pretty great job getting people vaccinated, practicing social distancing, keeping the masks on,” Susser said. “It’s not too much to ask people to help their neighbors. Get vaccinated and come on out and enjoy the summer.”

While not everyone is fully vaccinated, the Covid-19 positivity rate has dropped substantially in the county. According to The New York Times, Nassau County is reporting an average of 101 cases per day in a county of 1.36 million people — a 49 percent decrease compared to two weeks ago. On May 16, Nassau County reported 90 new cases, yet the county is still categorized as a high risk for those who are not vaccinated.

Despite that, the county is opening up. “Better late than never,” Valerie Augenthaler said. “I think we could’ve opened up sooner.”

Long Beach officials say they look forward to the reopening of the city’s beach’s this summer. Above, the famed Long Beach boardwalk // Photo by Alexander Wilenski/Long Island Advocate

On April 28, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, and State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, appeared on the Long Beach boardwalk asking the state to increase capacity at beaches from 50 to 100 percent. “We are beach people,” Curran said. “People go to the beach and support their local businesses. We need the beaches open 100 percent.”

Kaminsky, who represents the 9th District, said “Last summer’s beach guidance is no longer relevant and should no longer be the rule of the day.”

Days later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on May 3 that most capacity limits would be lifted May 19.The new guidelines affect most commercial businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, gyms and barber shops.

The Long Beach boardwalk has a number of eateries. One such restaurant is Beach Burger, which, like so many dining establishments, was impacted by the pandemic restrictions. “Last year was definitely a major challenge,” Beach Burger owner Ralph Anselmo said. “The boardwalk here on Long Beach was closed for two and a half months, so we couldn’t even operate.”

When the Long Beach boardwalk opened back up in May 2020, pandemic restrictions brought about changes to its usual operations. The eatery, for example, had to close at 9 p.m. “We basically lost two hours a night in business,” Anselmo said.

 Beach Burger at the Long Beach boardwalk. // Photo courtesy of Ralph Anselmo

Beach Burger sits right off the boardwalk, allowing easy access for those who want to grab a quick bite. While there is seating inside, a majority of people eat outside. Regardless of the May 19 changes, Beach Burger will be playing it safe. “We’re all used to wearing masks, so we’re probably going to keep it like that for a while,” Anselmo said. “We’ll take it day by day with that; we want to be on the safe side. We don’t want to have any issues with any of our customers, or board of health, or the City of Long Beach.”

When beach season is in full swing, Anselmo wants it to be like the Roaring ’20s. “We’re definitely excited to open back up normally and have some normalcy. See some smiling faces and serve up some good eats,” he said.

Restaurants weren’t the only ones affected by the pandemic. Because the beaches were closed, the City of Long Beach was hurt financially, with City Manager Donna Gayden saying the biggest impact from pandemic restrictions was the “lack of revenue.”

“What people should be aware of is the effect that the beach has on the local economy,” City Parks Commissioner Joe Brand said. “It’s not just the revenue that the city sees a reduction with. You talk about small businesses, people that rely on the extra traffic of the summer months in order for their businesses to survive through the winter.”

After Curran and Kaminsky called for the full reopening of New York State beaches, Cuomo said beaches and pools could be open at 100 percent capacity by July 4. When Ocean Beach Park opens May 29, full capacity will be permitted.

“For outdoor activities there at the beach, we can go 100 percent,” Brand said. “We just have to be able to create a safe environment of separation between people.”

The city lost about $1.4 million because of the beach closures during the pandemic. “If we’re able to open at 100 percent, we’re certainly banking on the fact that we’ll be able to recoup all of that revenue,” Brand said. “There were some slight adjustments with beach pass prices, which will result in even a bigger increase for us.”

With a return to normalcy on the horizon, Gayden had only one word to describe how she feels: excited.

Brand remarked, “To say that last summer was trying or a tough environment to work in is an understatement. We want people to come and enjoy this wonderful boardwalk and beach that we can offer to people.”

When the day comes when everyone is vaccinated and the coronavirus is no longer a threat, maybe everyone will be in as good of a mood as Richie Weinstein, featured in the video below.