There were plenty of beach accessories spotted on Galveston beaches this weekend. Beach balls, bikinis, bottles of beer, boogie boards, fishing rods and smoking grills.
But beachgoers in Galveston on Monday afternoon weren’t seeing face masks and other signs of a global pandemic.
“We haven’t noticed anything different other than having to stand in line at the restaurant,” said David McGinnis, who drove to Galveston from Belton, about five hours away, on Friday. His family’s trip to Galveston this weekend was a small makeup for a canceled April trip to Mexico.
“Personally, I feel if God’s going to call you home, he’s going to call you home here, at home or in Canada,” McGinnis said. “So it doesn’t matter. But, I mean, we’re not being stupid and shaking hands with everybody we meet.”
Galveston beaches were typically busy for Memorial Day as Texans from around the state headed to the coast for the start-of-summer holiday. While other parts of the country, including New York and New Jersey, opened their beaches with restrictions for the first time this weekend, Texas beaches have been fully opened since May 1.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has encouraged people to maintain separation from other groups of people in public spaces and to avoid traveling in large groups of non-family members. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people wear masks in public spaces, especially in places where social distancing is more difficult to maintain.
The most apparent sign of the pandemic flew overhead periodically throughout the weekend, as a white plane towed a banner with a message “6 feet saves lives.” Ice cream vendors driving the beach wore masks and gloves, and lifeguards sitting next to each other in towers along the seawall also covered their faces.
Traffic in Galveston seemed to peak Saturday as cars jammed Interstate 45 waiting to turn on to 61st Street and even parked along FM 3005 on West End as parking at beach access points reached their limits.
The traffic on Monday was lighter, but lines of cars and trucks still filled most of the island’s more popular beaches.
Fort Worth resident Brittney Betten traveled to Galveston on Sunday after weeks of feeling “cooped up” in the North Texas city.
Compared to Galveston, “there’s a lot more mask wearing” in Fort Worth, Betten said, noting the only place she saw anyone wearing masks over the weekend was in a Seawall Boulevard nightclub.
Betten wasn’t overly worried about what she saw in Galveston.
“I know it’s a real thing and I know it’s serious,” Betten said. “But I think you just have to take precautions and stuff and be clean.”
Friday marked not only the official beginning of summer but also the start of a new phase of reopening parts of Texas. Bars around Texas were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity, while restaurant dining rooms were allowed to be at half capacity.
Galveston officials have encouraged people to police themselves at restaurants and other businesses and to avoid places that don’t appear to be following the state’s guideline. City spokeswoman Marissa Barnett on Monday said she couldn’t confirm whether city marshals or the police department received any reports or complaints about overcrowded businesses.
The number of people on beaches didn’t draw any public outcry from local officials. But they did draw attention from elsewhere.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Sunday evening urged Houston residents who had visited beaches — as well as crowded nightclubs and parties that drew outrage on social media — to get tested for COVID-19.
“Come Tuesday, they ought to be the first in line to get tested,” Turner said. “If you were at these parties, if you were on the beaches, if you were around a whole lot of folks and not engaging in social distancing and you didn’t have on a mask and you were in close proximity to other people, I would encourage you to go to one of the 27 free testing sites in the city of Houston.”
Part of Turner’s concern was a report published last week by the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which warned of a possible large increase in the number of cases in Harris County that could be attributable to reopening.
The Philadelphia model predicted Harris County could see as many as 2,000 new cases a day by the middle of June.
The same model gives a less dire prediction for Galveston County and estimated an increase to 11 new cases per day by June.
Between May 19 and Monday, the Galveston County Health District has announced an average of seven new COVID-19 diagnoses per day. There were 753 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Galveston County as of Monday, according to the health district.