GALVESTON

Galveston’s plan to limit crowds on the Fourth of July worked.

But after a weekend of keeping the crowds away, island leaders still were trying to assess what the cost of the pandemic closure was and what the path forward for the rest of the summer will be to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Everybody understands and respects the call as far as corona and the danger,” said Gina Spagnola, the president of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce. “But honestly, it was terrible for business. It was devastating.”

On Wednesday, the city of Galveston, Galveston County and the city of Jamaica Beach announced their beaches would be closed or limited through the Fourth of July holiday.

Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough announced the closures as part of an effort to limit the number of people traveling to the island to prevent large crowds that could potentially spread the coronavirus.

“To me, the closures were trying to keep Galveston’s weekend population during this spike in cases down,” Yarbrough said. “And it kept our population down.”

“I get questions all the time about why Moody Gardens or the Pleasure Pier are open but I shut the beaches down,” he said. “Moody Gardens and the Pleasure Pier don’t draw people. The beaches draw people, so it was a good governor for what we wanted to do. It lowered the population, so we feel like it was a success, even though we know it was a painful pill.”

The county followed with a similar order, which Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser said was necessary because the island’s closure could push hundreds of thousands of people to open beaches on Bolivar Peninsula.

To the extent that the orders were meant to keep crowds away, the closures worked. The number of people on the island was noticeably low, and businesses reported light crowds.

Although restaurants, stores and other attractions on the island were open for business, parking lots and dining rooms were sparsely filled.

At noon on Saturday, Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, the venerable 109-year-old restaurant on Seawall Boulevard, posted a picture of its lifeless kitchen. On what would normally be the busiest day of the year, there were no orders to fill.

The closure also sparked a string of cancellations at hotels that covered not only the holiday weekend but through the rest of the summer, Spagnola said.

The shutdown’s effect was visible in the number of people counted driving onto the island.

About 27,000 vehicles crossed the Galveston Causeway on to the island Saturday, according to the city. The number was low, even for a typical summer day, never mind a holiday.

On July 1, a more-or-less typical Wednesday, about 37,500 cars crossed the causeway onto the island.

On July 4, 2019, the city reported about 48,500 cars driving onto the island. In 2018, a year when torrential rains canceled the island’s fireworks show, the car count coming onto the island was about 28,000.

The Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry was similarly slow over the weekend. The ferry reported short wait times. In a normal year, waits at the ferry on a summer weekend can last two hours or more.

ON THE BEACH

Some people tested the limits of the beach closures.

A small group of protestors demonstrated against the closures Saturday afternoon on the seawall at 39th Street. Some of the protestors took their demonstration out on to the beach. Two people were given $500 tickets by the Galveston Police Department for violating the order.

On Bolivar Peninsula, where people were allowed to be on the beach during limited hours, some people challenged deputies who asked them to leave or who drove their vehicles on the beach, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.

“There were some people who were resistant to the order and just would tell us, ‘Write me a ticket, I’m not leaving,’” Trochesset said. “There were some people that would park cars, and if they weren’t going anywhere, we would let it go.”

Trochesset didn’t know how many tickets deputies wrote for people violating the county’s orders.

Independence Day normally is the peak of the summer travel season, and the outlook for more mass closures is unclear. Beaches across the county were back to being fully open and unrestricted on Monday morning.

In the city of Galveston, officials said they planned to announce new, more-limited beach closures as soon as Wednesday.

Galveston could create no-parking areas, capacity restrictions at some West End access points and closure of vehicular traffic on the beach, Yarbrough said.

The city might also restrict some areas at the ends of the seawall or at the San Luis Pass that have attracted large crowds since beaches reopened May 1, he said.

The city knows enough about the summer crowds now to manage them, Yarbrough said.

“We have enough history now,” Yarbrough said.

Henry didn’t anticipate making any similar closures on Bolivar Peninsula but left open the possibility that restrictions on the peninsula could return — based on what the city of Galveston does going forward.

“We only had to do this because Galveston made this last-second call and put us in this tough spot,” Henry said.

Labor Day, the unofficial end of the summer tourism season, is 62 days away.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(12) comments

Bailey Jones

I can understand the desire to do something, given the explosion in cases we had after Memorial Day. But they should have given more notice. The pandemic is a problem with no good solutions except those that also adversely impact the economy. The one thing we can all do that costs us nothing is to wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands.

Mary Lofaro

[thumbup]

Walter Dannenmaier

Perhaps it is time to try some of the "bad" solutions, Bailey. For example, government quits meddling, people decide what to do on their own, some live and some die. The stark economic analysis is that squeezing a few more months out of already ailing octagenarians may not be the highest, best use of societal resources and certainly not worth crushing life possibilities for the young.

Bailey Jones

lol - remember a few years ago when conservatives imagined that Obamacare legislation included "death panels"? The idea of letting old people die for strictly economic reasons left the right scandalized and apoplectic.

So, are you wearing a mask, Walter? Or is even that tiny act - when the only payoff is "squeezing a few more months out of already ailing octogenarians" - too much of a sacrifice for you? I'm curious to know how you balance the "personal sacrifice vs societal responsibility" equation.

Lorna Presswood

Testing is up which leads to more positive results. Hospital admissions for any reason and any illness are being reported and counted as covid cases when they "happen" to test positive. The facts are-according to the CDC, 98% of people do not get sick with the covid virus, and by now the death rate has plummeted by 90% from March. The "huge hospitalizations" and a "surge in positives" are being reported as a surge, a re-surge, a second wave, when in fact, it's a very mild flu-like virus and always has been according to CDC facts! This "pandemic" was never a pandemic. Every year people die of pneumonia from the flu virus. Every year the elderly and the one's with compromised immunity die of pneumonia from the flu virus. Carrying this forward with more closures and more hysteria and psuedo-pandemic hype is completely contrary to the facts being reported by the CDC itself.

Galveston needs to get back to normal and the mayor and city manager need to stop being "tiny tyrants". It's beyond ridiculous.

David Blumentritt

It won't happen until they're gone from Galveston leadership.

Carlos Ponce

And of that "surge in positives" how many are false positives? The tests aren't 100% accurate.

PD Hyatt

The Governor and ALL of the Mayors who were pushing to close the state down once again should not be wondering about the costs that it is going to cost them for once again killing the economy of our state over NOT people dying but because of all of the testing there are more positives. Anyone who has had the corona virus (common cold) will test positive for the Wuhan virus.... Many cities, counties and states are going to rue the day that they shut our state down when they see the cost of lost businesses, lost tax revenue and then those same people are going to have to come to home owners and raise the heck out of our taxes to make up for their goofy mistake.... Logic and common sense has flown out the door in our nation....

David Smith

Doesnt know how many tickets wrre written?

Stop.... jus STOP!!!

Ted Gillis

Yes Paul, logic and common sense have flown out your window for sure.

Think about it, Why would a “democratic” mayor want to willingly stifle the economy of his city? It’s preposterous statement, as the downside next year is going to be a tremendous budget shortfall with forced city layoffs reduced services. Why would any mayor, democrat or otherwise wish for that? These mayors are being forced into making unpopular decisions because they possess logic and common sense, not because of the lack of it.

Your post is what’s lacking.

Carlos Ponce

Truth speaks louder than Ted Gillis.

Wayne D Holt

"These mayors are being forced into making unpopular decisions because they possess logic and common sense, not because of the lack of it."

No, Ted, I will have to disagree with you strenuously. If you think most government and the politicians it employs are guided by logic and common sense, I want to know what country you live in. Politicians are guided by...TADA!..politics.

And the politics of it is that the mass of low information voters drive the dynamics of politics. They believe what is shouted at them from the TV screen or they read a headline and don't bother with trying to understand the statistical chart below it; too much effort. So a politician who takes a principled stand--like Judge Henry did originally--gets pilloried for having the poor taste to question whether he even possessed the legal authority to do what people were clamoring for. It's a thankless place to be in.

The games continue. Ron Paul's blog has pointed out that the wording of Gov. Abbott's last diktat was composed so that the impression was just about everyone had to wear a mask indoors. But the truth is, inside of any store, if you are able to "feasibly keep" six feet of distance from others, you have fulfilled the letter of the decree. But if you try to do that in most stores, they have been browbeaten into refusing to serve you even if you are the only one in there but aren't wearing a mask. The law clearly says you have complied when you keep that distance...but don't try this in real life, kids.

We are so numb from being bamboozled and flimflammed that we just plod along in whatever matrix they erect for us. And BTW, this has nothing to do with the efficacy of masks at this point. This is about the duplicity of getting mileage out of a deliberately vague directive to get compliance you legally don't have the authority to declare.

If the virus doesn't make you sick to your stomach, that level of hypocrisy should do the trick.

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