The city of Galveston closed beach park facilities Thursday in an effort to discourage visitors and reduce the spread of coronavirus.
The decision came the same day Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide order banning social gatherings of more than 10 people and closing restaurant and bar dining rooms. The order sharpened focus on city discussions about how to dissuade tourists from coming to the island.
The city order applies to Stewart Beach, East Beach, Seawall Urban Park, Seawolf Park and Dellanera RV Park, all managed by the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
The order does not shut down public beaches in the city, but it closes facilities such as the pavilion at popular Stewart Beach, the fishing pier at Seawolf Park and bathrooms along the seawall.
People can still go to the beaches, but visitors were discouraged from traveling to the island, which last year attracted 7.2 million tourists, officials said. The decisions are an effort to blunt the spread of coronavirus, officials said.
“Don’t come to Galveston right now,” Mayor Jim Yarbrough said. “We’ve closed restaurants; we’ve closed bars; we’ve closed transportation.”
The statewide ban on groups of more than 10 applied to Texas beaches, Abbott told reporters at a news conference in Austin.
“Any place where anybody would gather, by this executive order they are prohibited from having more than 10 people gather at any one time and location,” Abbott said, according to an Austin American-Statesman report.
Four cases of coronavirus had by Thursday been confirmed in Galveston County, among 143 statewide, according to local and state data.
The park board and the city decided to close the beach parks to comply with Abbott’s order, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.
The park board will continue to clean the beaches, and Galveston Island Beach Patrol will still oversee public health, safety and sanitation, de Schaun said.
“During a crisis such as this, we must defer to the appropriate authorities in regards to the larger issues of public health,” de Schaun said.
Galveston leaders began ramping up efforts to dissuade visitors this week after Harris County officials Monday ordered closure of bars and limited restaurants to take-out and delivery.
The city of Galveston issued a similar declaration that included tourist amusements, outdoor tours and entertainment venues.
The city also suspended its tourist bus services. Regular transit bus service continued, however.
In a Thursday news release, the city asked people to postpone trips to Galveston until after the growing threat of coronavirus had abated.
Visitors to Galveston Island spent $872 million in 2018 and accounted for about 9,000 local jobs, according to park board data.
Officials were unsure Thursday how they planned to enforce the governor’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Galveston Police Department hasn’t been tasked with enforcement to the city’s knowledge, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
“The city has not closed the beaches,” Barnett said. “We’re encouraging people not to congregate in groups of 10 or more.”
Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset hadn’t reviewed the governor’s orders and didn’t know Thursday evening how, if at all, his deputies would be able to enforce it, he said.
City officials Wednesday said they had entertained the idea of closing the more than 40 beach access points if spring break crowds didn’t dissipate.
It’s a dramatic decision that leaders had made at some other popular beach destinations, including Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida, and Cameron County, home of spring break haven South Padre Island.
In Cameron County, the decision to shut down beaches was also driven by a desire to keep tourists away, officials said.