The Delaware Beaches Prepare to Reopen on May 22

The Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk will once again see visitors this weekend as the city prepares to reopen to visitors after being locked down./Photo by Alvin Matthews

After being locked down due to coronavirus concerns, Gov. John Carney announces that the beaches will be reopened under social distancing guidelines.

Delawareans will be able to kick off the summer season among the sand and surf.

Gov. John Carney announced Thursday afternoon that Delaware’s beaches will be fully reopened May 22 under social distancing guidelines while urging out-of-state visitors to stay away for now.

Carney’s decision comes days after officials in Lewes, Fenwick Island and Dewey Beach decided to reopen their beaches and boardwalks in a limited fashion after resorts in Ocean City, Md., just south of the border, reopened last weekend. Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach officials agreed to reopen their beaches and boardwalks for exercise on May 15.

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Beach restaurants are kept to takeout and delivery service only, and arcades are still closed under the state guidelines. Visitors can rent umbrellas, chairs, and kayaks, as long as vendors disinfect them between use.

In a statement to the press, Carney said that he was balancing mitigation efforts against coronavirus against the need for citizens to reach a new normal as summer arrives. He also allowed community pools to open at 20 percent capacity and ice cream shops and trucks to offer takeout service,

“We’re trying to find ways for Delawareans to enjoy the outdoors and the company of their families,” he said. “I want to be very clear to our friends who want to travel here from outside the state. While we hope one day soon to be able to welcome you to our beaches, that time has not yet come. We need to reopen Delaware in a controlled way that doesn’t put anyone at risk.”

It’s going to be a summer like no other in Delaware, as beach-goers are asked to wear masks in public, maintain social distancing and not use water fountains. Coastal towns are expected to clean railings, benches, and bathrooms multiple times a day. Six-foot intervals will also be marked where there will be lines.

“We’re anxious to see what the new guidelines will be, but since we’re a destination, the hospitality industry has been hit hard by this. It’s going to be a longer road.” —Carol Everhart, the CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce

Carney also recommended towns find ways to limit capacity, like day passes on the beach and limiting parking spaces. He also recommended that towns create “beach ambassadors” to educate people about social distancing.

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The state has been under a stay-at-home order since March 24, leaving resort business owners concerned about their future as Memorial Day weekend approached.

“This is the best news we’ve had in a long time,” said Carol Everhart, the CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce. “We’re anxious to see what the new guidelines will be, but since we’re a destination, the hospitality industry has been hit hard by this. It’s going to be a longer road.”

Delaware’s stay-at-home order is still in effect until the end of May. Hotels and short-term rentals, the key component to Delaware’s $3.5 billion tourism industry, are still shuttered under Carney’s orders.

It’s been estimated that 70 percent of businesses in the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce have been closed under Carney’s stay-at-home order issued in late March. In addition, a survey of members conducted by Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce reported that 40 percent of respondents were closed as well during the shutdown.

Everhart estimated that some beach businesses lost between 50 percent and 80 percent of revenue, depending on whether an industry was outright banned under the state of emergency or allowed to have limited operations.

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For Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Weaver, small businesses face additional challenges in finding new service vendors and training staff in a social distancing world.

“I don’t think they’ve been given a lot of credit, because it’s been a learning curve in this new normal,” Weaver said. “It’s hard to plan when you’re dealing with the unknown. A lot of these small business owners put blood, sweat and tears into this. They want to do everything they can to save it.”

This weekend will be a test of the new normal in Delaware’s resort communities, as the weather should be sunny and with summer-like temperatures. But at the end of the day, Everhart was confident that businesses will do everything they can to safely reopen for business.

“At some point, you have to realize these are adults and we cannot do everything for them. But we can do everything in our power to be safe,” she said. “If big box stores can do it, so can entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

By Katie Tabeling, This story originally appeared on Delaware Business Times, a sister publication to Delaware Today magazine.

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