Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference Tuesday reminded people to practice social distancing at beaches, marking the first time he’d publicly addressed beach behavior during the pandemic.
Abbott’s reminder came after thousands of visitors arrived on the island over the weekend and as the state denied Galveston’s second request for aid in managing tourist crowds.
People on beaches, at lakes or at rivers should all maintain 6 feet from other groups, Abbott said Tuesday. Groups at beaches shouldn’t exceed the number of people in a household or five individuals, Abbott said.
Before Tuesday, Abbott had been largely silent on beaches.
Two weeks ago, Abbott told a Fort Worth-based radio show he intended to open beaches. When he announced his reopening plan April 27, however, he didn’t mention beaches.
Then last week, the Texas General Land Office revoked its previous approval for local governments to close beaches over COVID-19 concerns, effectively reopening state beaches.
Before that, Galveston city leaders had proposed a phased approach, opening beaches for a few hours at a time. Galveston had opened limited morning hours last week.
Abbott’s announcement doesn’t change much for Galveston, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
The city on Monday requested Department of Public Safety personnel to help Galveston first responders manage the crowds, but the request was denied, Yarbrough said.
The city also had requested and was denied the same help last week, he said.
The city had asked the Texas General Land Office whether local leaders could close some access points along West End beaches to help manage crowds, Yarbrough said.
Galveston is accustomed to managing large crowds, but last weekend, people had few options about where they could go because bars were closed and restaurants and other businesses were operating at limited capacity, Yarbrough said.
“There isn’t much for them to do other than congregate and drink and party,” Yarbrough said.
Almost 119,000 cars crossed the causeway into Galveston during the three-day weekend, according to city data.
In his Tuesday address, Abbott also outlined guidelines for hair salons and other beauty businesses to reopen Friday and for gyms to reopen May 18.