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Will beaches be open for coronavirus summer?

By now we've learned that there is no such thing as a coronavirus crystal ball to tell us what lies not very far ahead.

If there were, I suspect it might tell us that Connecticut's public beaches will be closed by this summer. I hope I'm wrong.

The Twitter hashtag #Floridamorons has been trending this week, since crowds began descending on some of the reopened beaches in that state. It's become a take-sides issue, with strong feelings on the question of whether beachgoing should be allowed in the time of the coronavirus.

The beaches and the parking lots for big public beaches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are closed.

Many of the storied beaches of Hawaii are closed to walking, running, lounging, game playing or sunbathing — all but crossing them to get into the water.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week there are no plans to open city beaches for the summer.

The New Jersey shore has been shutting its beaches through the spring, in town-by-town orders.

Will Gov. Ned Lamont and his eminently qualified pandemic advisory task force decide that Connecticut beaches can remain open, as the weather warms and the inevitable crowds begin to congregate?

It's another of the tough calls to be made, as the governor's job gets even harder in the weeks ahead, balancing the emotional and economic needs of resuming some normalcy while keeping a spike in new COVID-19 cases at bay.

I certainly don't envy him the decision about beaches.

It is certainly possible to imagine new beach protocols that could allow for social distancing at all but the most congested beaches. There are arguments to be made about the mental health benefits of using the beaches, even in the spring.

On the other hand, it's pretty easy to conjure up the picture of all those scenes of crowded summer beaches, towel beside towel, that The Day has published over the years, a coronavirus haunting.

I visited New London's Ocean Beach this week and it was deliciously quiet, with a brisk April wind off the water. It would seem so menacing to have that boardwalk, now largely empty, filled with people on a hot summer afternoon.

Closing big public beaches also would create a more obvious Connecticut shoreline summer of have and have-nots, since parking restrictions won't keep people who live near small community beaches from using them.

More ominous is the economic impact on shoreline Connecticut of closing the beaches and telling the tourists to stay away.

It already appears that the tourism economy will take a serious blow, with restrictions against short-term vacation rentals very possibly staying in place. The people who stay in those rentals are also customers of the shops, bars and restaurants.

Even if restaurants are able to reopen, it will be a brutal summer for those businesses.

So far, with true beach weather still many weeks away, Connecticut has about the most permissive beachgoing policy in the Northeast. What will summer bring?

I am going to trust Gov. Lamont in this case to get it right.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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