Memorial Day weekend draws crowds – and triggers warnings

Curt Anderson
Associated Press

St. Petersburg, Fla. — The Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start of summer in the U.S. meant big crowds at beaches and warnings from authorities Sunday about people disregarding the coronavirus social-distancing rules and risking a resurgence of the scourge that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Meanwhile, the White House announced a ban on travel to the U.S. from Brazil, which has been hard hit by the pandemic.

This Saturday, May 23, 2020, photo, shows a view of Avila Beach looking south from the Avila Beach Pier in Pismo Beach, Calif. The beaches in Pismo Beach and Avila Beach, California, were fairly packed with tourists during Memorial Day weekend with the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing. (Laura Dickinson/The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo) via AP)

Sheriff’s deputies and beach patrols tried to make sure people kept their distance from others as they soaked up the rays on the sand and at parks and other recreation sites around the country.

In Port Huron, life showed some semblance of normal: children played on shore and speedboats blasted music as temperatures hit the 70s. There were some indications that things weren’t entirely normal, though. Plastic wrap was taped over water fountains and showers. Benches were covered with “Do Not Cross” tape and amenities like grills, picnic tables, pavilions, playground equipment, restrooms and concession stands were closed. Some beach goers wore face masks.

“We strive to provide a safe environment to our residents so we can continue to keep the parks and beaches open,” said Nancy Winzer, director of Port Huron Parks and Recreation. “We are hoping to have amenities available again as soon as the spread of COVID-19 is no longer an issue.”

The Port Huron Recreation Department opened Lakeside and Lighthouse beaches on Thursday with regulations to limit the spread of COVID-19. The department encouraged patrons to practice social distancing and keep at least 6 feet apart. Police frequently passed through the beaches to enforce the rules.

“We’re just making sure everybody is staying safe and not doing anything bad,” said police cadet at Lakeside beach, Allison Cole. “Just follow the governor’s orders, keep social distancing, and wear a masks if you can.”

Beach goers said they wanted to take in the sun and relax.

“We just wanted to put our feet in the sand,” said Carla Strong, 52, of Mount Morris.

Things went smoothly at Macomb County beaches on Sunday, reported county Shriff Anthony Wickersham. “No news is good news,” he said. “It’s always good to go out and have a good time but be responsible.”

In Oakland County, a slower pace was the theme on lakes and beaches. “We haven’t had a lot of calls or a lot of complaints ...,” said Sgt. Jennifer Harvey.

“It’s been a good weekend.”

Meanwhile, golf courses were in demand.

As of Friday, all the tee-times were taken for Oakland County Parks and Recreation’s five golf courses through Memorial Day, said Sue Wells, manager of park operations.

Wells said the hiking trails weren’t too packed at Red Oaks park in Madison Heights or Orion Oaks park in Orion Township when she visited Sunday. But she saw lots of picnickers at Catalpa Oaks in Southfield, despite the play equipment being off limits to limit exposure to because of the virus.

The county hasn’t opened the beach at Independence Oaks yet as it evaluates how to handle social distancing there, Wells said.

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.

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.

“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.”

In Missouri, people packed bars and restaurants at the Lake of the Ozarks, a vacation spot popular with Chicagoans, over the weekend. One video showed a crammed pool where vacationers lounged close together without masks, St. Louis station KMOV-TV reported.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, gunfire erupted Saturday night along a beachside road where more than 200 people had gathered and were seen partying and dancing despite the restrictions. Several people were wounded and taken to the hospital.

“We got slammed. Disney is closed, Universal is closed. Everything is closed so where did everybody come with the first warm day with 50% opening? Everybody came to the beach,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said at a Sunday news conference, referring to crowds in the Daytona Beach area.

But officials in California said most people were covering their faces and keep their distance even as they ventured to beaches and parks. Many Southern California beaches were open only for swimming, running and other activities.

The U.S. is on track to surpass 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the next few days, while Europe has seen over 169,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that almost certainly understates the toll. Worldwide, more than 5.3 million people have been infected and 342,000 have died.

Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.