Pandemic brings more changes to Kent Island and Delaware beaches

In response to the national increase in COVID-19 cases, which includes exposures reported in Delaware, beach towns and cities from Delaware to Kent Island have enacted changes they hope will keep Fourth of July beach-goers safer this weekend.

On Kent Island, Queen Anne’s County leaders implemented capacity limits at Matapeake State Park, Terrapin Nature Park, and Ferry Point Park, which began on Friday.

The changes caught a few families and small groups of friends by surprise on Friday. Many had no knowledge of the new capacity limit but still waited patiently in line, enduring one of the hottest days this summer, to enjoy Matapeake Beach once allowed inside.

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“…come early because first come first serve, because once we get to capacity, we’re going to be one out, one in. So I mean this is our best solution to keep everyone safe because the last thing we want is for somebody coming to Matapeake Beach, spending the day, and then 14-days later, coming down with COVID, just because they were too close to someone else that may have been a carrier and didn’t know it,” said Jim Moran, President of Queen Anne’s County Commissioners.

Moran told FOX 5 a county health official had proposed a residential restriction on the three Kent Island beaches and parks, but state officials did not agree with this. The compromise included hiring private security to monitor the parks now limiting beach and park capacity to about half of what is normally allowed: Ferry Point – 200, Terrapin – 700, and Matapeake – 250.

Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners President Jim Moran tells FOX 5, usually, around 500 people are allowed into Matapeake Beach, but a few weeks, Moran says it was so packed, people were just “stepping over one another.”

In other parts of Kent Island, most COVID-19 restrictions already in place by the state remain. Masks are recommended, but not required. The same goes for Ocean City, Maryland, this weekend, according to the town’s website.

However, in Delaware, you could be paying out of pocket if you’re not paying attention to specific changes.

Ahead of the Fourth of July Weekend, Bethany Beach passed an ordinance that took effect at 9 a.m. Friday, which extends Delaware Governor John Carney’s public mask-wearing requirement.

Under the new ordinance, people can face up to a $100 fine if found to not be wearing masks within a certain designated area. The designated area includes both the boardwalk and shopping district, where a Bethany Beach Police Public Information Officer tells FOX 5, there is less space for people to social distance.  

The city erected fold-up and LED-signs around the designated area. One sign reads: “Masks Required At All Times.”

In Rehoboth, officials extended their mask requirement to on the beach, in addition to streets, sidewalks, and the boardwalk.

Both cities as well as the state list mask exceptions for those under 12-years-old and those with health issues that prevent the person from wearing a face cover.

Delaware Governor John Carney, earlier this week, moved to shut down sitting at bars ahead of Fourth of July weekend due to the state’s COVID19 exposures. The update to Delaware’s State of Emergency reads: “Taprooms, brewpubs and restaurants may not permit patrons to sit or stand at a bar, but may open the bar to prepare drinks to be brought to diners seated at tables.”

There are questions around who is supposed to be policing all of this.

RELATED: New restrictions in place for Delaware beach bars ahead of Fourth of July weekend after COVID-19 cases jump

FOX 5 spoke with both Public Information Officers at Bethany and Rehoboth Beach on this. Both said local police will be patrolling for those not following safety measures implemented by the beach towns.

In areas like Ocean City, following state guidelines, an Ocean City official told FOX 5 those breaking COVID19 safety requirements should be reported to the local health department so that health officers can investigate.

We also know authorities, like Maryland State Police, have responded to calls involving large gatherings.

“The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) often receives feedback from citizens who notice large gatherings with limited social distancing and people not wearing masks or face coverings. The best resource for citizens with concerns about crowding are the local health departments. Maryland health departments work in conjunction with local law enforcement and the Maryland State Police to provide guidance to citizens and businesses about proper social distancing and other means to slow the spread of COVID-19,” wrote Maryland Department of Health Spokesperson Charlie Gischlar, in an email, sent to FOX 5 DC on Friday.

All across the board, police departments are asking beach residents and visitors to make sure they and their families are taking proper safety precautions first and foremost.  

The capacity limits at Matapeak State Park, Terrapin Nature Park and Ferry Point Park, Moran said, are being implemented on weekends and holidays. Moran said county officials are looking to implement some kind of paid beach membership next year.