ALBANY — The state’s new edict to close marinas and boat launches for recreational boating as well as to place severe restrictions on golf courses to stem the spread of the coronavirus is putting thousands of employees out of work and prohibiting thousands more from warmer weather pursuits.
For Long Island skipper Christopher Squeri, last weekend was the first Easter he hasn’t spent on the water with his wife and son for as long as he can remember.
“I get it. I’ve known people who have passed away from this virus,” said Squeri, who is also executive director of the New York Marine Trades Association based in Amityville. “But at the same time, I look at it as we’re trying to do things the right way, and do it safely to protect people we know and love.”
The order came just as boating and golf seasons were opening. Studies indicate annual boating and related activities account for about $4.1 billion on Long Island, and park facilities that include golf courses generate about $1 billion a year. The industries combine to produce 50,000 to 100,000 jobs. That’s according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Trust for Public Land and the Rauch Foundation.
Long Island’s economy “has been crippled since the onset of this pandemic,” said Discover Long Island President and CEO Kristen Jarnagin. “The additional closure of golf courses and marinas continues to challenge an already suffering industry. However, the safety of our residents is the utmost priority and we respect the steps taken now to ensure that we can reopen all businesses and recover as swiftly as possible.”
Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association, said the loss can’t just be measured in dollars.
“Our recreational businesses are a very important part of the Long Island economy and golf courses and marinas also offer a therapeutic benefit to its patrons, so when the state gradually reopens some businesses in the near future, hopefully these facilities will be among them,” Law said.
The order was posted April 9 on the website of the state Empire State Development Corp., which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo charged with deciding what businesses were essential and should stay open as he orders the vast majority of the state’s economy to shut down to curb the spread of the virus.
“It’s an extension of there being no basketball, no tennis,” said Melissa DeRosa, chief of staff to Cuomo. Playgrounds are also closed, although parks remain open.
Under further appeals by golf courses, the state on Friday partly reopened some of them, but under new restrictions. Private courses may now allow golfers to walk the course and play, but they must carry their own bags. State and other public courses are still closed, but municipally owned courses could open under restrictions if the local municipality allows their courses to open. No employees — caddies, bartenders and others — can work on any course unless they are involved in essential services such as grounds maintenance, state officials said Saturday.
In addition, the order for all courses is: "No gatherings of any kind and appropriate social distancing of 6 feet between individuals is strictly abided."
On Long Island, there is understanding, but concern.
“You’re talking about thousands of employees,” Squeri said. “There are a lot of industries in a tough spot and we really are no different than anybody else, but we are looking at it as a marina where employees are working outside … we won’t have office or sales staff and everyone is at least 10- or 20-feet apart at all times.”
Marina owners are continuing to appeal the state’s decision.
Golf courses had appealed Cuomo's initial shutdown order March 20 and won a waiver. Many courses opened this month. But that waiver ended with the state’s new ruling, until exceptions in Friday's amendments.
There is no consensus that golf is a safe form of exercise during the virus outbreak.
“I don’t see a problem with people being on a golf course,” said Dean Winslow, an infectious diseases specialist at the Stanford University Medical Center. “I would certainly recommend that they not be in the same golf cart, that you carry your own bag and stay 6 feet apart … but it just seems to me we really want people to be outside and exercising and just psychologically taking care of themselves,” said Winslow, who doesn’t golf.
Summer Johnson McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven, said restrictions might work but would be problematic.
“Adequate COVID-19 golfing protections in this pandemic would require a huge amount of enforcement by golf course staff and if our grocery stores are any indication, this will be nearly impossible to accomplish,” McGee said. “In a time of pandemic, golfing seems like a luxury that we could forgo."