BALTIMORE — The photos from Ocean City this weekend have been jarring to many.
Throngs of beachgoers crowded the city’s iconic boardwalk. Few wore masks. Many appeared to be standing closer than the recommended 6 feet apart.
“What I was surprised at was the amount of people that weren’t wearing their masks or weren’t social distancing,” said Lauri Dixon, who has owned a condominium in Ocean City for the past decade with her husband, Leroy. “I was surprised to see that many people. I understand people wanting to get out. But they need to do physical distancing and wear their masks.”
The self-proclaimed beach lover’s usual euphoria turned to anxiety.
“I definitely felt a little trepidation and a little hesitant,” she said. “I steered clear of them.”
It wasn’t just on the boardwalk. Dixon immediately noticed the lack of face masks at her condominium, where there are rules requiring people to wear masks and practice distancing — particularly in the elevator, where no more than one person is allowed in at a time.
“There have been two times that as soon as I leave my unit they aren’t wearing masks,” she explained. “That to me is very frustrating. That creates some anxiety. You don’t know who they are or where they have been.”
Officials from Ocean City did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Baltimore Sun. However, Mayor Rick Meehan was quoted by The Washington Post saying that images of Ocean City did not accurately depict conditions on the boardwalk.
“It’s obviously challenging, because we have a lot of people who want to be out together, but when you’re on the boardwalk, you will see that people are not really up on each other,” he told The Washington Post Sunday. “People are trying to keep their distance, they’re not walking into each other, and they’re being courteous.”
A live-stream camera from the boardwalk and beach on Sunday and Monday showed a calmer, sparse presence compared to what Dixon observed on Saturday. She attributed the decrease on Memorial Day and Sunday to overcast skies and a drop in temperature.
Throughout the country, beach towns and hot weather destinations experienced similar swarms of people.
In the Tampa area along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the crowds were so big that authorities took the extraordinary step of closing parking lots because they were full, according to The Associated Press. In Missouri, one video showed a mass of people crowding a swimming pool with no masks at the popular vacation spot Lake of the Ozarks.
On the Sunday talk shows, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said she was “very concerned” about scenes of people crowding together over the weekend, according to the AP.
“We really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical. And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Delaware beach towns reported significant drops in beachgoers during the traditionally busy holiday weekend.
At Rehoboth Beach, officials observed a much quieter start to the summer than usual.
“Usually Memorial Day weekend you are shoulder to shoulder,” said Krys Johnson, communications director for the city of Rehoboth Beach. “It has got to be half. The weather hasn’t been conducive as well. And with all those restrictions, that has cut down as well.”
Johnson referenced the state of Delaware’s short-term rental ban, a 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state visitors, and an order that mandates face masks be worn on the boardwalk area of town.
“It’s normally our big kick-off,” she said. “That’s definitely had an impact for sure. It’s a much different feel. It’s so quiet.”
At Bethany Beach, officials noticed a significant drop in visitors this Memorial Day weekend.
The population was down an eighth “of the norm,” according to Michael D. Redmon, Chief of Police for the Bethany Beach Police Department.
Redmon, who attributed the lull to the 14-day self-quarantine, also said that there were no tickets, citations, warnings or arrests linked to not wearing masks or not social distancing this weekend.
Back in Ocean City, Dixon, who was about to embark on an afternoon bike ride, pondered if Maryland opened its beaches too fast.
“It may have been too early to open up,” she lamented. “But I understand people’s need and want to return to normalcy.”