JERSEY SHORE, NJ - “The Bennies are Coming!” In the weeks before Memorial Day, local Jersey Shore residents express their share of complaints about the perceived “invasion” from out of area residents. However, local eateries and other business owners eagerly await the onslaught of guests. Truth be told, seasonal activities account for a great part of the economy from Monmouth to Cape May counties. Amid the pandemic, some full-time people who live near the beach have some suggestions.
Five days ago, a Quinnipiac University Poll came back with a clear consensus that priorities should be given to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, 71 percent of those polled by telephone answered that the public health concerns outweighed the damage to the economy.
Of the 945 self-identified registered voters who participated in the telephone poll, the majority were democrats (33%), closely followed by independents (30%). Republicans (27%) and those who chose not to identify party affiliation (10%) were also in the mix. The complete breakdown of respondents can be reviewed here.
The politics of public health is a story for another day. In the meantime, Ship Bottom resident Shannon O’Hara wants to be part of the solution. She has taken the time to write to Governor Phil Murphy with an idea she feels could have positive results.
O’Hara moved to Ship Bottom from New York City just one year ago. In her letter to Murphy, she maintains that LBI is a “tourist draw,” where people mostly make this annual living in three months.
“My fear is that we are hearing through friends and family that there is going to be a surge this summer because people are saying they don’t want to travel “too far from home this year due to the coronavirus,” said O’Hara. “In normal scenarios, this will be ideal for the local economy.”
With Mother’s Day this past weekend, O’Hara noticed several people visiting the beaches. Most practiced social distancing and wore masks. O’Hara recognized many were locals enjoying the sand and surf. However, the businesses that opened were packed with tourists who came down for the weekend.
“The arcades, the ice cream stores, and souvenir shops had tons of people clustered in long lines. They weren’t observing social distancing and had no masks on, “O’Hara pointed out. “My concern is not only for them, but also the grave danger that puts local retail employees at risk.”
In writing to Murphy, O’Hara suggested a solution she sees as a preemptive strike that could help everyone, including business owners who rent out bicycles and surfboards to the summer crowd.
“I know of a product that once applied instantly decontaminates surfaces,” said O’Hara. “They are used by NASA and approved by the FDA and CDC. I contacted the manufacturer and learned that the product makes surfaces safe for 100 days. The fact that it wouldn’t need to be reapplied through the summer season would absolutely help businesses and lessen the spread of the coronavirus.”
Further north, Attorney Sam Stoia wrote to the Asbury Park mayor regarding his concerns about access to the local beach. Stoia pointed out that Seton Hall University conducted a study showing that 72 percent of Americans plan to stay away from sporting events until a COVID-19 vaccine was in place. Stoia suggested the same would be true for beachgoers.
“The more people who feel comfortable coming to the beach and boardwalk, the better that will be for the town and the merchants,” Stoia stressed. “Asbury Park should rise to the challenge and set the benchmark high for establishing a detailed plan to make people feel more comfortable.”
Stoia, who owns a home in Asbury Park, based his recommendations on personal observations this past weekend. For starters, Stoia feels there should be separate street entrances for entering and exiting the beach.
“Establishing and marking very specific individual sunbathing areas, as well as lanes for entering and exiting the ocean makes sense,” said Stoia. “Additionally, I think limits should be placed as far as the number of people who can occupy the beach at any one time.”
When it comes to the boardwalk, the Asbury Park homeowner asked that authorities set up lanes for north and south traffic. Social distancing requirements should be mandated on both the beach area and boardwalk.
“To not have a plan for the summer is just a plan to fail,” Stoia asserted. “What will not work is just telling people to exercise social distancing without very specific direction. Asbury Park should strive to be the leader in this effort.”
In the meantime, summer rentals pose yet another prospective issue. Murphy says he anticipates a Memorial Day reopening of the Jersey shore. However, what it all means, remains to be seen.