GALVESTON

Summer began in Galveston Saturday.

Crowds from across Texas flocked to island beaches for the first weekend in more than a month that the sand was open to visitors.

To the casual observer, it might have been a normal summer weekend. But the crowds descended on the island during a time when health officials advise people to continue social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Restaurants, museums and other businesses reopened their doors – at 25 percent capacity – across the state Friday after Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced the first phase to reopen the state’s economy.

Beaches also reopened after local leaders confirmed the governor and Texas General Land Office, which oversees state beaches, ordered them open. Galveston beaches had been closed since March 29 and had just reopened with limited hours on Monday.

Courtney Allison, from San Antonio, was glad the beaches were reopened because she and her children were ready to get out of the house, she said.

Allison sat in a lawn chair at Sunny Beach while her children played in the sand.

Her family takes an annual trip to Galveston and this year wasn’t sure whether they’d be able to make it, Allison said.

“I think we are really ready to get out of the house,” she said.

Allison feels safe on the beach, but the crowds seemed like those of a normal summer, she said.

NOT A TYPICAL SATURDAY

By noon on Saturday, cars trying to turn right on 61st Street from I-45 were backed up to the highway. Traffic heading west on Seawall Boulevard backed up from 81st Street to Central City Boulevard — about 20 blocks — and available parking spaces on the beachfront street were few and far between.

People sat outdoors and ate at Seawall Boulevard restaurants and rented bicycles to ride along the seawall. Visitors from across Texas set up canopies, lit grills and planted their beach chairs in the sand.

None of this was unusual for a May Saturday in Galveston, except that this was not a typical Saturday, with social distancing guidelines still in place.

Last week, Mayor Jim Yarbrough signed an emergency order allowing the city to fine people $500 for violating Abbott’s social distancing guidelines.

The Strand, Galveston’s popular shopping district, wasn’t absent of people, but it fell short of normal summer crowds.

John and Colleen Herman sat on The Strand Saturday watching people walk by. The couple have a home on Galveston’s East End they’ve been spending weekends in. There were more people downtown Saturday than there have been in a while but still not as many as normal for this time of year, John Herman said.

“I think we’re way down,” Herman said.

But the beaches were full.

Keith Mildy visited Sunny Beach from Pasadena just to get out of the house, he said. Mildy felt like people were social distancing on the beach and, as long as coronavirus cases don’t surge, he’ll keep going to the beach this summer, he said.

“As long as it stays like this, we’ll keep coming down,” Mildy said.

But for some, it still seems too early for people to be crowding beaches.

Anna Lopez sold ice cream to Sunny Beach tourists out of her ice cream truck. The crowds seemed about on par with summer levels, she said.

Lopez thinks it’s still too dangerous for older people to venture out, she said. She feels safe staying in her truck and wearing a mask, she said.

Anthony and Jessica Vallejo, from Lufkin, traveled to Galveston for the weekend on an impromptu trip because they’ve been stuck at home for weeks, they said.

They are still doing their best to practice social distancing, Anthony Vallejo said.

“Everybody else,” Vallejo said, gesturing to the crowds covering the beaches at 34th Street, “I don’t know.”

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

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(19) comments

Donna Spencer

From what I saw on the beach today, there was no social distancing going on. This is the great experiment. Only time will tell. Hope it all works out well for everyone. We should know within the next month or so.

Charlotte O'rourke

It is disappointing and frustrating that in the middle of a pandemic the government encourages going to the beach to sit, hang out, and mingle like we haven’t just gone through stay at home orders, social distancing, and are going through a continuing economic crisis.

Unbelievable mixed messages and failure to protect public health.

Carlos Ponce

Don't go to the beach if it bothers you.

Charlotte O'rourke

If it bother me, which it does, I will write my representatives asking for local control of the beaches to be given back to local elected representatives where the decisions belong. Mixed messages like these beach and Seawall pictures are not helping the economy reopen if a surge of cases occurs, nor is it in the best interests of Galveston residents. It just minimizes the seriousness of the pandemic and reasons for locking down in the first place. It seems it would also make it more difficult to test and trace people out of county and state.

Walter Dannenmaier

Charlotte - There are a few certain things about this pandemic, and one of them is that the government and the media have done a fine job of terrifying a good number of our citizens. But not everyone is terrified. If there has been a cluster of cases from Home Depot and the grocery stores, The Daily News (which I think has done a fine job of covering this event) has not reported it. So if Home Depot isn't involved in a cluster, why would we expect it from the beach? And by the way, where was our cluster from Mardi Gras? Hmm... Yes, if you lived in New York City or The Resort in Texas City the outlook is a bit tougher. But we just haven't seen it here. We do, however, have our share of the 30,000,000 unemployed.

Charlotte O'rourke

Why does everyone that opposes social distancing claim others are “terrified”, and bring up economic issues when avoiding a crowded beach doesn’t impact the economy.

Personally, I would only be terrified if I still had to work ICUs with infectious patients with one mask a day for PPE or currently worked in a meat packing plant.

If my family depended on it, I would still go to work BUT BE TERRIFIED of passing it to anyone else especially family. I have 3 relatives in their 90s - all living in their own homes.

Otherwise I think most people are willing to take reasonable risks .... just not stupid got stupider risks going against CDC medical advice when there is no pressing need, and the circumstances can be avoided by going to a less crowded beach.

Not sure about the Mardi Gras comment - New Orleans had a surge after Mardi Gras.

Charlotte O'rourke

Didn’t our Mardi Gras happen in February before the community spread?

Carlos Ponce

Maybe those who weren't socially distancing belong to the same family. I'm certain Charlotte O'rourke practices social distancing from the rest of her family but most don't.

Charlotte O'rourke

Carlos, Yes, I think most people have been social distancing from family that is not of the same household to keep from infecting other family members at more risk.

If you live with someone, social distancing is impossible.

And no one is saying don’t go outdoors or go to the beach, but prevent crowding one another and wash your hands because all of those OTHER people are going to the same bathroom and touching the same things you are.

Wear a 😷.

Carlos Ponce

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Gary Miller

Charlotte> It appears you are unaware how useless testing and tracing are. A way to spend money but nothing else.

Michael Moriarty

I guess in about 14 days we'll see if this was good for everyone!

Bailey Jones

[thumbup]

Gary Miller

Large crowds on the beach kill more virus than a empty beach.

Gary Miller

Autopsies of Covid victims show low Vitamin D. Evidence of impaired immune systems. Child victims had almost no Vitamin D. Get out in the sun for free vitamin D and let ultra violate sunlight kill some viruses.

Wayne D Holt

For those of the Left/Liberal persuasion who have been uncomfortable with the economic destruction derby visited on us by political panic rather than data, Bill Maher has just given the All Clear signal that you will not be tagged a Trumper if you call for a return to normal life. As quoted in its entirety from RealClear Politics:

HBO host Bill Maher said people should fight the coronavirus by strengthening their immune systems, rather than by sanitizing the universe in a monologue delivered on the Friday edition of 'Real Time.' Maher argued coronavirus is something that the human immune system is built to fight against and not a reason to develop obsessive-compulsive behavior or scare people.

The host said people with compromised immune systems should be a priority but being scared of your own hands can not become "the new normal." The HBO host continued, "keeping our bodies in good health" should be declared an essential job because "that is the only way we are going to win this."

"I worry that the past two months of quarantine have given people the idea that way for humans to win our million-year war with microbes is to avoid them completely. And I'm here to tell you you can't," Maher said. "The key to beating COVID isn't dining through glass or never going to a concert or a ball game again. It's your immune system. You hear people say, "COVID-19 is a new virus so the immune system doesn't know how to handle it." Bullshit, of course it does. That's why the vast majority of people who have had it have either recovered or didn't even know they had it. What do you think did that? The human immune system. There are people with immune systems that can't do the job and we should make it a priority to protect those people. But compulsively washing, being scared of your own hands? That can't become the new normal."

"You can keep discovering new places to scare people into buying protection for, but we're solving the problem from the wrong end," he argued. "This is a health problem; we can't sanitize the universe. Governors should declare keeping our bodies in good health an essential job because that is the only way we are going to win this.

"What's the point of life if you can't live it?" Maher asked. "Have you ever had sex in a hotel? Did you wash your hands first? Well the last couple didn't either. And yet, you're still alive. Because your immune system said we got this."

"This weekend, do something nice for your immune system. Go outside. That mysterious land beyond your curtains where the GrubHub drivers live and get some fresh air and Vitamin D," Maher suggested. "And break a sweat doing something besides eating hot chicken. Because at the end of the day, you can't keep all the pathogens out. It would be as silly as thinking you can stop immigration by building a wall."

David Schuler

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Bailey Jones

I only take medical advice from Stephen Colbert.

Ron Woody

Hear, Hear!

Do not always agree with Maher, but he usually makes me think. Which is almost always a good thing!

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