Predictions that Memorial Day weekend would draw large crowds to the island proved to be correct with cars parked on both sides of Seawall Boulevard and FM 3005 for miles and traffic jams reported around the island.
But it wasn’t surprising to Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis, who said the beaches have been busier than usual since they were allowed to open back up after pandemic closures. Davis judged the crowds about normal for the holiday weekend and expected bigger ones Sunday.
“It’s been pretty much looking like holiday weekends on the weekends and weekends on the weekdays since the beaches opened,” Davis said. “We’ve had such big numbers down here, I was a little bit pleased we weren’t completely overrun today.
"Although it’s busy and it’s been stop-and-go traffic on the seawall, and the West End access points are jammed full, it’s not as crowded as it has been in the past, at times," he said.
While very few people were seen wearing masks on the beaches, people were diligent about being spread apart from one another and have generally been acting cautiously with no near-drownings or hospitalizations as of early Saturday evening, Davis said.
“Considering how many people have been here, it’s gone pretty well so far,” he said.
While Sunday tends to be the busiest beach-going day of a holiday weekend, crowds Sunday were about the same as Saturday's, Davis said. Scattered showers throughout the Houston area, including Galveston, may have played a part in crowds growing significantly Sunday.
“It rained off and on this morning, so some people came and they got chased off by the rain and others rode it out and stayed,” Davis said. "We cleared the water, I think, four times because of lightning. So, we were pretty busy just doing that kind of stuff."
The beach patrol did report a near-drowning Sunday, as lifeguards had to rescue a woman who had gone under the water at about 5:15 p.m. near 33rd Street, Davis said. The woman appeared to be in stable condition as she was being transported to the hospital, Davis said.
DON'T FORGET COMMON SENSE
Standard beach safety measures, Davis said, include:
• Avoiding drinking and swimming.
• Avoiding swimming alone.
• Avoiding diving into water head-first.
• Having non-swimmers and children wear life jackets.
“Don’t throw caution to the wind when you come to the beach, and don’t forget about good common sense,” Davis said. “As long as you use common sense on the beach, your chance of getting home safely are pretty good.”
Elsewhere in the county, the shops, restaurants and bars in Kemah drew moderate crowds Saturday afternoon. Management at the Voodoo Hut, 511 Bradford Ave, which was converted from a bar to a restaurant during coronavirus-related restrictions, said the crowds were not surprising.
“With all the social distancing guidelines, it’s kind of hard for people to gather in groups, but it’s been what we expected,” Voodoo Hut assistant general manager Zach Townsend said.
Divided into two rooms, Voodoo Hut’s room with only a bar was closed to the public, while a palapa-covered area had tables spread 8 feet apart, and a bar in that room had plastic shields installed and bar stools removed as measures to prevent contamination and crowding at the bar. Hand-sanitizer stations were added to nearby pool tables and other games under the palapa.
“We’re taking all the precautions that we can to keep it as fun and as safe as we can,” Townsend said. “Everybody’s been cooped up and they want to get out, but they want to stay safe, as well.”
Editor's note: Updated 6:30 p.m. Sunday.