BELMAR, NJ — Sunny skies and warm temperatures this past Saturday brought the anticipated crowds to the Belmar beachfront — the first time that borough officials could gauge its COVID-19 beach operation plan.
And they were pleased with the overall results: Social distancing and other guidelines were followed by the vast majority of beachgoers on May 30, including when there was a need to direct them to less-congested beaches to keep others at capacity limits.
“Every part of the plan was tested … and everyone was respectful of the guidelines in place,” Borough Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum reported to the borough council during its June 3 remote meeting. “We closed a few beaches and moved (beachgoers) to other locations. Everyone understood … residents and guests. We learned new lessons and what we need to do moving forward.”
The beach operation plan, released two weeks ago for the Memorial Day weekend, includes the use of digital counters at beach entrance points, drone surveillance overhead and observations by foot and traveling patrols along the 1.3-mile oceanfront to assess the number of people on the sand and in the surf, ensuring they are keeping at least six feet away from others.
Mayor Mark Walsifer concurred with Kirschenbaum’s assessment of the picture-perfect beach day that as expected brought droves of visitors to the beachfront. “Our residents, visitors, employees, first-responders — everyone was really stepping up. I was surprised how many people are social distancing, even our visitors.”
At about 1:15 p.m. on May 30, the borough alerted beachgoers through social media and the Monmouth County “Know Before You Go” online directory that beach entrances at Eighth, 11th, 16th and 17th Avenues were temporarily closed in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.
As a result, ticket booths for daily badge sales were closed south of Eighth Avenue, and beachgoers were directed to the wider northern end, where capacity had not been reached. As congestion eased on the southern end, the beaches were reopened about an hour later, according to officials.
Council President Thomas Brennan monitored the beachfront on that day with the borough’s “Friendship Force” — a group of volunteers assisting to ensure visitors are social distancing properly.
The collection of data through the digital counting, drones and first-hand observation of the number of beachgoers was instrumental in the effectiveness of the borough’s beach operations plan, Brennan said. “The plan really worked. You could see which beaches were getting crowded and we focused on those beaches, and when it got crowded, we moved people,” he said. “People were really, really good about social distancing on the beach and boardwalk. A lot of people were wearing masks."
As for the businesses along Ocean Avenue, Brennan said many had placed markers on the ground, where people lined up and were complying with social distancing, as well as donning face coverings.
In addition to social media updates, Brennan suggested that real-time information on the beachfront also be displayed on the borough’s electronic message board on Route 35 at 10th Avenue — a major entrance into town by visitors.
During the council’s meeting, Walsifer announced the retirement — once again — of Eugene Cory, longtime beachfront lead supervisor responsible for day-to-day operations. “He came out of retirement to help us out. He has now come to a point where he needs to retire and relax. He has done a great job for us,” he said.
Jeff Coviello, who joined the beachfront staff two years ago, has assumed Cory’s post, supported by Erica Coviello, Michaela McGuiness and Christina Spina.
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