GALVESTON

Galveston leaders already faced a complex question: how to slowly partially reopen island beaches without inviting crowds that would undermine efforts to manage the spread of coronavirus and tax local public health and safety.

That proposition might have become considerably more complicated Wednesday after Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas beaches would reopen.

Galveston’s City Council is scheduled today to discuss ways to ease into reopening the beaches, a component of a draft plan about relaxing restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses.

The draft proposes opening beaches between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays to give people the opportunity to exercise, swim, fish or surf, according to the draft. No one would be allowed to sit or lounge on the beach.

The city might consider opening beaches just on weekday mornings at first and waiting two weeks to assess the crowds, before opening weekday evenings, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“We can always adjust,” Maxwell said.

City leaders might be able to have the beaches mostly reopened by June, Maxwell said.

Reopening slowly is key to ensuring Harris County residents don’t flock to beaches, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

Once beaches reopen, people with cabin fever from around the region are likely to head this way, Yarbrough said.

The main reason for closing the beaches is to protect first-responders, Maxwell said.

“That is our single largest biggest concern — the safety of our first responders,” Maxwell said. “We need them.”

Maxwell wants to reduce points of contact for first-responders to prevent them from getting sick and being unable to respond to residents’ needs, he said.

“People think we closed the beaches because we’re worried about the virus spreading on the beaches,” Maxwell said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

Out of any coronavirus-related topic, the beaches have garnered the most calls and emails Yarbrough has been getting from residents, he said.

“Everybody wants the beaches open to some capacity,” Yarbrough said.

COMPLICATIONS FROM ABOVE

City efforts to create a slow approach to reopening beaches might have been complicated Wednesday when Abbott commented that beaches can definitely reopen.

Abbott made the comment on Fort Worth-based talk radio WBAP.

“Beaches will definitely be open,” Abbott said.

Abbott’s comment was significant because local plans for a phased reopening of the economy hinge on announcements the governor is expected to make Monday.

In the radio interview, Abbott said people would have to follow social distancing practices on the states beaches.

“You can’t have 45 or 450 people gathering together, partying around because that could cause all kinds of problems,” Abbott said.

In question, however, is whether local governments such as Galveston would be able to restrict the times beaches, which belong to the state, could be open.

Yarbrough wanted more information from the governor’s office before commenting on Abbott’s remarks, he said.

Abbott’s office did not respond for clarification by deadline.

Enforcing any beach rules will be tough, Maxwell said.

The city likely would reopen only some of the seawall stairwells to give Galveston Island Beach Patrol and first responders better control of the crowds, Maxwell said.

Since the city closed beaches March 29, the beach patrol has had to tell more than 4,000 people to leave the beach, Chief Peter Davis said.

Most of those appear not to have been casual visitors, however, Davis said.

“About 75 percent of them are local or people with second homes on the beach,” Davis said.

With the beaches under restricted hours, beach patrol will have to patrol the sand every day to remove people after the open hours end, Davis said.

Normally, beach patrol would have seasonal tower guards working during the summer, but with help from the Galveston Police Department, beach patrol at this point can handle partial opening with the 12 full-time staff working, Davis said.

But once beaches fully reopen, beach patrol will need seasonal employees, and recruiting and training can take a minimum of three weeks, Davis said.

BEACH BUDGET WOES

Beach patrol, which relies entirely on revenue from hotel occupancy taxes, is facing severe budget cuts, Davis said.

During a Galveston Park Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, Davis proposed cutting $988,800 from the patrol’s $3.16 million in expenses budgeted for 2020, about 31 percent, according to park board records.

Those cuts would mean eliminating patrols on the West End and at San Luis Pass, removing guard towers from Babe’s Beach, staffing only one tower at Stewart and East beaches and only on weekends, eliminating staffing of some seawall towers on the weekends and cutting two full-time staff members, according to park board records.

Beach patrol has asked to use $330,000 in reserve money. If it were allowed to, it would need only to cut West End patrols and reduce coverage of Babe’s Beach by 30 percent, according to the records. The board will meet Tuesday to vote on a new budget.

As restrictions lift across the city, enforcement likely will get tougher, Maxwell said.

As of April 17, Galveston Municipal Court had received six citations from police related to people being on the beach — three for driving on the beach and three for walking on the beach, according to the Galveston Police Department.

People walking on beaches outside the specified hours should expect to be fined, Maxwell said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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(25) comments

Charlotte O'rourke

What are other cities and countries doing about beach reopening? Are they worried about transmittal at the beach? There seems to be no specific guidelines from the CDC or federal government.

The governor needs to realize each beach even within a city may have different needs to prevent overcrowding and keep acceptable distancing.

What about movement and wind and disinfecting surfaces like benches, handrails and bathrooms? What are best practices?

One thing appears clear. It’s important to prevent overcrowding. It’s also clear from reviewing the articles that Europe has stricter rules on travel and cleaning techniques. The beaches in Spain and many other areas aren’t fully open yet and they are discussing ways to reopen before 2021.

Same with Bondi beach which was a hot spot for Coronavirus.

From Florida: “For the partial beach re-opening to be successful during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, it’s imperative that people follow social distancing guidelines and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. For everyone’s safety, even greater social distancing than the 6-foot-foot rule is strongly encouraged on the beach to account for wind and the movement of others.“

Here’s hoping the Texas Governor doesn’t just say “Texas beaches are open!”

Carlos Ponce

"What are other cities and countries doing about beach reopening?"

How about just Texas?

The Padre Island National Seashore: The beach is open for day use from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and hotels in the area are allowing the public to book reservations during this time. Overnight camping and parking are not allowed at this time.

South Padre Island: The city of South Padre Island has closed the beach until May 4 due to Cameron County's shelter-in-place order. The beach is only open for exercising purposes.

North and South Packery Channel Beaches in Corpus Christi: The beaches in Corpus Christi are open for day use from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., according to officials.

Mustang Island: The beach is currently closed due to operational-related issues, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Galveston Island State Park: The beach is open for day use, however, all must practice social distancing and stay 6 feet away from individuals not in their family. Keep in mind, the state park is open because of Gov. Greg Abbott's order to reopen Texas parks on Monday. The city of Galveston has closed the beach affiliated with the city until further notice.

Rockport in Aransas County: The beach is closed for daily use and exercising until April 30 due to the county's shelter-in-place orders.

Bob Hall Pier in Corpus Christi: The pier is open for day use from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., according to Corpus Christi officials.

Port Aransas: The beach is closed and is only open for exercising activities until April 23. City officials told mySA.com an extension of its shelter-in-place order will be made Wednesday and the beach rules will still apply.

Surfside Beach in Brazoria County: The beach is open for walking and running, but sitting is not allowed. Beachgoers also can’t bring chairs to the beach. Beach access parking lots will only be open to people with Surfside Beach parking decals.

Crystal Beach in Bolivar Peninsula: The beach is open for daily use, however, large gatherings are not allowed, according to Galveston County officials.

https://www.chron.com/local/article/Here-are-the-beaches-that-are-open-and-closed-in-15221217.php#photo-15713292

Charlotte O'rourke

Yes. Thanks for posting. I think it important to look at different areas and then consider important differences specific to Galveston. Hopefully the governor will not restrict beaches to one size fits all and allows local control.

One of the more unusual ideas was plexiglass to restrict movement and guarantee distancing which seemed a totally batty idea for the beach. But what do I know, I’m still wondering what they keep spraying all over the world on streets in those space suits.

Ron Woody

Ms. O'Rourke, One thing I know from a friend that does billing and accounts receivable for a small chemical company (about 35 employees) in Brazoria County. They have switched much of their production to sanitizing fluid and have received orders for hundreds of vats of condensed sanitizer to be mixed and sprayed from airplanes and trucks like mosquito spray. I am sure hers is not the only company receiving such orders. I am not certain that is what you are seeing but it may be.

So the government can restrict our rights and freedoms and then determine that they can spray us with chemicals, yes probably harmless, without knowing the true impact of breathing, environmental, etc.

How can anyone think this is acceptable?

Charlotte O'rourke

Thanks Ron. I haven’t found what the countries were spraying and if spraying down an area is common. Bleach? Or some other product?

Terry Moore

[smile]me too about the spray!

Ron Binkley

EVERYONE knows the beaches are closed. We need to hand out citations for those breaking the law. Think of it as a source of funds for a city that needs more funds.

mark jones

Some doctors are whispering that they are now ready for relaxing restrictions. Hospitals are losing millions and can take this on in Galveston. It's time to open the beaches and businesses in common sense stages. Cancel the Lone Star Rally for sure but have faith in UTMB's proven ability to handle more patients.

Jeff Gorski

totally agree. the hospitals are now ready to handle this stuff and we should open the beaches with social distancing in place. by now everyone knows what to do. if the city of Galveston doesn't own the beach, why can they place these restrictions? it's like me saying you can't go to my neighbors house.

Jeff Gorski

also, if Galveston isn't the primary governing body the beaches, how can they enforce the fines imposed? id bet if one challenged the fine it'd have to be thrown out.

Wayne D Holt

The main reason for closing the beaches is to protect first-responders, Maxwell said.

“People think we closed the beaches because we’re worried about the virus spreading on the beaches,” Maxwell said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

Brian Maxwell has let the cat out of the bag, at long, long last. It has "absolutely nothing" to do with the beaches being public health hazards. The health hazard is to responders who come up to those on the beach in CLOSE CONTACT to tell those to leave who, as Maxwell admits, they are not worried about from a public health perspective in the first place.

Take in the supreme irony in having beaches closed that they never worried about as health hazards but only because they were concerned that the enforcers of this non-essential decree might become infected. And it works out perfectly in this bizarre logic because they never send enforcers to the places that REALLY ARE the most likely public hot spots, like big box stores.

For this leadership at City Hall, we pay increased taxes and endure a destroyed economy. Amazing.

Wayne D Holt

It should be added that total reported cases of Covid-19 as of April 21 in Harris Co. was 0.000467495 percent of their population, per Texas Department of Health and Human Services and KPRC aggregated data. Galveston County's rate of cases is 0.001513406 percent of our population. Their fatality rate is also an order of magnitude less than Galveston County.

Rather than worrying about metro Houston invading our beaches and stores and infecting us, metro Houston should have been worried about us infecting them.

This is information a citizen with a computer and five minutes can determine in their pajamas before morning coffee. Why is this beyond the ability of local government to understand?

Since we now know that the beaches were never a public health concern, and that Harris County's known rate of infection and death are both an order of magnitude less than ours, why is there even a discussion ongoing about letting businesses get up off the mat that government has put them on? What other agenda is at play here since objective logic lays waste to the narrative we've been treated to for weeks?

Gary Miller

The Director of the National Lab reported 4 23 that they had identified the most effective virus killers. Hydrogen peroxide is good, Bleach is better, Ethel alcohol is better yet but best of all is sunlight by a wide margin.

Wayne D Holt

Let the sunshine in [thumbup]

Wayne D Holt

From the news report: "Preliminary results from government lab experiments show that the coronavirus does not survive long in high temperatures and high humidity, and is quickly destroyed by sunlight, providing evidence from controlled tests of what scientists believed — but had not yet proved — to be true."

David Schuler

So now Brian says that the decision to close the beaches was 100% about protecting the first responders, What? If dealing with the general public is so dangerous, why is it OK for all the employees at Krogers, Arlans, Randalls and Home Depot? Are they deemed "expendable"?

Jeff Gorski

yeah their rationale makes no sense.

Walter Dannenmaier

It's been proven scientifically that it is impossible to transmit the virus at Krogers, Arlans, Randalls or Home Depot.

Charlotte O'rourke

I’m assuming this is a joke. But I don’t get it? One must eat .... hence trips to the grocery store to buy food. It’s best to pick up curbside or have delivered, but not everyone has that ability.

One doesn’t need the beach to live though you may love going there as I do. It’s not essential to life so why not wait a couple of days before making a change that will most likely change again when the governor gives his directives. It just causes extra expenses and confusion.

Walter Dannenmaier

Charlotte - we now have the data from the aforementioned businesses. Has there been an outbreak centered on them? Not that I have heard. So let's run the experiment on the beach and get more data.

Charlotte O'rourke

Hi Walter, our beaches and city closed early. Thanks to council and management. My argument has been that until we have contact tracing and testing we don’t know how Community spread is occurring.

I do think it less likely to get it from the beach or from other places as long as social distancing and masks are worn. The issues are increased numbers of visitors creating more points of contact for residents and first responders.

The studies I have found interesting but also troubling -as it may be spread by aerosols - were the choir incident that occurred even with social distancing, but created many positives and the study that was recently in the paper about exercising and distances. The author did a good job explaining.

I’m not against opening up in stages as long as we have a well thought out plan (not spur of the moment 2 day beach change) and we monitor appropriately (testing and contact tracing) so city council can take appropriate actions if needed.

My issue was that council overturned beach orders for a short term reaction without a specific plan when the governor is coming out with his plan on Monday and council could make decisions after fully understanding the parameters.

If anyone is against testing, my argument is Mary Mallon aka Typhoid Mary. This virus seems to have a lot of asymptomatic carriers hence the need for masks, testing, and tracing.

Thanks for expressing your opinion. I agree more than disagree.

Walter Dannenmaier

Charlotte, more testing would be delightful, but reliable tests are not available in large quantities, probably won't be for a long-time, and will not provide insight into how to interpret results. Shutdown orders were not well-thought out. They were based on poor data and great fear. Fortunately, it appears the virus was not the threat to the general population that worst-case scenarios projected weeks ago. But the economic damage is real, and will be ongoing. There will be casualties from that as well.

Gary Miller

Charlotte> Facts, comparing infections and deaths, proven by events is Covid 19 isn't as dangerious as the seasonal flue. It was a handy excuse to create a recession. The Democrat media and Democrats are panicked about 35 of our 50 states reopening with strong vocal support from 2,500 of our 3113 US counties. Few realize every state in the union has more Red counties than Blue Counties. Red counties may not dominate a blue state but must be listened to.

Charlotte O'rourke

Walter, I’m confused. The data was 60,000 - 100,000 deaths. We are fast approaching that death mark.

Americans are dying daily.

To me that’s significant.

I’m for opening our hospitals that aren’t stressed, and a reasonable business reopening, I’m not for stupid (Georgia’s plan with cases increasing) to prove government (federal. State or local) was wrong.

Charlotte O'rourke

Sorry David - I called you Walter.

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