VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The resort city welcomed back visitors on Friday to partake in the age-old activity of simply sitting on the beach.
For nearly two months, beaches were closed for anything other than exercising and fishing, in order to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Monday when Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) announced Virginia Beach’s 28 miles of beaches could welcome sunbathing starting Memorial Day weekend, he did so under the conditions the city’s beach reopening plans were followed.
New signs are posted to remind the public that stopping the spread of the virus is in their hands. It explains maintaining 6 feet of separation in groups less than 10 is required.
Until further notice, group sports, audio speakers, large coolers, tents or groups of umbrellas are prohibited.
“They’re all developed to discourage gatherings,” said Ron Williams, Virginia Beach deputy city manager. “They are regulations. We are asking for compliance.”
Violations of group sports, alcohol and any violations of the governor’s social distancing orders carry a possible penalty of a year in jail and fine.
The city has hired more than 100 beach ambassadors in hopes things won’t get to that point.
“The front line is the entrance to each beach access, explaining the guidelines educating people about the guidelines,” said Mike Hilton with IMGoing. Hilton is co-director of the ambassador program.
The city has signed a $250,000-per-month contract with IMGoing, an entertainment company that typically manages street performances along Atlantic Avenue, to provide the service from Chesapeake Bay beaches to Sandbridge.
From 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day, ambassadors will also be roaming on the beach in order to help break up any 10-plus-person group that forms.
Citizens who have a concern with something not being addressed are asked to contact beach ambassadors at 311.
“This is the environment we are in now, and these are guidelines to help us all stay safe and enjoy the beach,” Hilton said.
Parking at garages and surface lots will be capped at 50 percent in order to limit large groups of beachgoers in particular areas.
Williams said using VBPD drones, the fire marshall’s office will make sure no more than 1,600 people are on the beach per block.
If the number is exceeded, people will be directed to less crowded areas.
“We will have the ability to clear a block or even the whole beach if there is too much density,” Williams said.
Clean teams will work in two-person teams with a “floater relief team,” according to Williams. They will cover the five-block area from the Boardwalk to Atlantic Avenue at the Oceanfront and will wipe and spray down water fountains, foot washes, crosswalk buttons and magazine bins in the area. They will also power wash the formal beach access points at Sandbridge and bayfront beaches.
Cleaning will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
While some things change, others stay the same. Like the need to have a clean beach.
“We’re putting in some extra crews. We’re extending hours to have crews down there cleaning up. We’re putting extra trash cans on the beach,” said Drew Lankford, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works.
Lankford said the city is also prepared for Floatopia. The infamous event made national headlines in 2019 after beachgoers left the shore littered.
10 On Your Side reached out to last year’s Floatopia organizer, who said the event is the last thing on his mind this year.
“Just in case, we’ve gone and made plans to have extra trash cans, crews down there checking on things, some dumpsters,” Lankford said.
Portable toilets have also been placed in the area.
“People got to realize it’s not going to be business as usual but that doesn’t mean you can’t still go down there and enjoy yourself,” Lankford said
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