VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The mayor of Virginia’s largest city is appealing to the governor to relax restrictions currently imposed on its namesake: the beach.
In a letter sent to Governor Ralph Northam (D-Va.) Monday, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer asked for a “measured opening” of the city’s 28 miles of beaches to be included in phase one of the governor’s “Virginia Forward Blueprint.”
“As you know … beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay help create one of the top economic engines for our city and our commonwealth,” Dyer wrote.
Northam, who himself lived in Hampton Roads for several decades while working as a practicing physician, closed the beaches to everything but exercising and fishing via a “stay-at-home” order back on March 30.
Northam has said he hopes to not extend an executive order that shuttered non-essential businesses past May 8. The stay-at-home order doesn’t expire until June 10.
Business owners who rely on the beach say without it, re-opening anything else at the Oceanfront won’t matter much.
“Research shows that beaches offer mental health benefits through rest, relaxation, meditation and exercise,” Dyer wrote. “We have an opportunity to provide that safe outlet for residents and visitors at one of the widest beaches on the East Coast.”
Dyer laid out how he believes the beaches can safely reopen.
Among his suggestions is the posting of new signs detailing cleaning, personal protective equipment and social distancing protocols, which include having no more than 10 people gathered in a group. Bathrooms, railings, showers and benches would be more aggressively cleaned, along with the addition of sanitation stations at access points. Dyer even offers up reducing parking capacity in garages.
To encourage adherence, Dyer proposes the formation of a “safety ambassador patrol.”
Northam has announced he plans to release guidelines for what phase one of reopening would entail on Monday.
However, Friday afternoon he went out of his way to point out how compared to other states, beaches are partially open now.
“You’ll find their phase one looks a lot like where Virginia is right now,” Northam said. “For example, some states’ phase one opens beaches to exercise. We have had that from the start.”
In a separate release, Dyer also announced the formation of an “economic revitalization team.”
While the city doesn’t have the authority to open or close its public beaches or overrule the governor, it does have the ability to make decisions that can provide relief to those struggling because of it.
“We are Virginia’s largest city with a long list of great small businesses who are hurting. We have a tourism industry that has been crushed as a result of the need to defeat this virus spread. We have families that want to pay their bills with paychecks and not stimulus checks. We are a proud city of heroes and we will move forward responsibly and safely,” Dyer said.
Dyer’s economic revitalization team includes Martha McCleese, Jeanie Evans, Barrett Stork, Emery Chickey, BJ Bauman, Tony DiSilvestro, Russell Lyons, Harshad Barot, Delceno Miles, Joash Schulman, Joe Belec, Claudia Cotton, Helen Dragas, Damen Watson, Shannon Kane, Gary McCollum, Tom Dillon and Colleen Nabhan.
“This is a strong group of business and community leaders who will help craft that transition strategy over the coming weeks,” Dyer wrote.
Read his full letter here.