ALBANY — COVID-19 is casting a shadow over Long Island beaches, Saratoga Race Course, the State Fair and lakeside resorts in the Finger Lakes, all of which face uncertainty over when they will open this summer.
Cuomo made it clear this week that attractions that include Long Island’s beaches — which he lumps together as “attractive nuisances” — are a low priority to reopen soon. He fears the crowds drawn to these attractions would fuel a resurgence of the coronavirus and create a second wave. Little if any social distancing measures, such as staying 6 feet apart or wearing masks, are possible or enforceable at these attractions, he said.
“You can’t open an attraction that could bring people from across the state and overwhelm a region,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “I don’t think we have time, first of all, but today I don’t think you can open those unless we do it statewide because there is such pent-up demand … density is not our friend.”
“I think it would have to be a statewide opening coordinated with Connecticut, coordinated with Jersey,” Cuomo said. “Otherwise you will have a much, much more dense situation if you wind up being the only attraction in town and town is a tristate region.”
Cuomo’s executive order that has shut down most of the state’s businesses expires May 15, but at best there will be a gradual reopening to avoid reigniting the virus. Reopening will likely start upstate first because it has fewer virus cases.
Currently, Cuomo’s executive orders regarding recreation allow only parks, private golf courses and marinas for personal watercraft to operate and only as long as social distancing measures are followed. Specifically banned are playgrounds, outdoor basketball courts and “other areas of congregation where social distancing cannot be abided.”
Cuomo had criticized Florida for keeping its beaches open in the early days of the virus' spread and now warns a second wave nationwide could be worse.
The uncertainty for even smaller attractions is such that Cuomo wouldn’t bet on whether the Buffalo Bills could open their upstate training camp in July: “Ask me at the end of June,” he said.
That’s not encouraging for Long Islanders. The Bills training camp is in Monroe County, which has a projected infection rate of 10% and four deaths blamed on the virus. Long Island’s infection rate is more than 37% with 3,233 deaths, according to state Health Department records.
“Long Island is one large ‘attraction.’” said Kevin Law, CEO of the Long Island Association business group. “People come from all over the globe to visit and play at our world class beaches, golf courses, vineyards and parks. So, it will be quite the challenge to develop the proper precautions to limit crowds at these natural jewels, but a challenge we must successfully meet because tourism is a $5 billion industry in our region and employs thousands of our residents.”
The Trust for Public Land foundation’s 2010 study found out-of-towners who visited Long Island parks, including beaches, pumped $615 million a year into the local economy and generated $27 million in local sales tax revenue.
Isolating during a dreary spring is one thing, walking away from a beach or traditional attraction in summer may be another.
“This is who we are,” said Harvey Weisenberg, who has patrolled Long Island beaches for 62 years and, at 86 years old, is believed to be the state’s oldest working lifeguard. “Being closed off and not having the opportunity to enjoy what God has given us … that would be a sin,” the former Long Beach assemblyman said. “But the reality is health and safety is most important.”
Others can’t contemplate loss of the beach.
“We wouldn’t exist anymore,” said Kahn Ngo, who has operated the Khan Sports bike, skate and surf shop in East Hampton for 22 years. “Without the beach? There is no life, man.”