Memorial Day weekend: Americans visit beaches and attractions with pandemic warnings in mind

CNN  — 

The country has started a most unusual kind of Memorial Day weekend. Beach days, cookouts and park visits are underway, but with health officials pleading in the background:

Get some fresh air – but watch how you do it.

After weeks of being holed up with stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans in all 50 states have seen their restrictions loosened to varying degrees. As the country nears 100,000 recorded Covid-19 deaths, epidemiologists warn cases will spike as people increasingly get around.

But the White House’s top coronavirus advisers also said people should feel free to venture outside with proper precautions. Many Americans are taking them up on it.

In coastal southern Georgia, beachgoers laid out on towels, sat under umbrellas and splashed in the Atlantic Ocean at Tybee Island on Saturday morning. They largely respected rules requiring groups stay 6 feet apart and have no more than 10 people.

“It’s like letting the air out of a balloon right now,” Tybee Island resident Don McLemore said about visitors. “Everybody’s coming out, and they’re anxious to get out.”

Very few people were wearing masks.

“If it’s my turn to go, I’m going. If not, I’m enjoying life,” a maskless James Dixon told a CNN crew there.

Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions conceded there were “a lot of people who do seem to be a bit complacent about the seriousness” of the virus.

“We just hope that everybody will be cautious and continue to space distance,” she told CNN. “And if they are around people, to be cognizant of wearing a mask – if not for themselves, for other people.”

People gather on the beach for the Memorial Day weekend in Port Aransas, Texas, on Saturday.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, beachgoers will be asked to stay at least 10 feet apart. Though the city says masks are advised, Mayor Derrick Henry conceded Friday that it’s “not realistic or practical to ask people to go to the beach and wear a mask.”

Some states – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware – reopened beaches Friday just in time for the holiday weekend. Most beaches will be open in Florida while those in hard-hit areas such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County will remain closed.

Rain will keep people inside in some parts of the country this weekend. But where beaches and other attractions are open, officials generally have issued social distancing restrictions and capacity limits.

White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, told the public this week that going outside was fine, with cautious measures.

“Go out, wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from anyone so you can have the physical distancing,” he told a CNN coronavirus town hall. “Go for a run. Go for a walk. Go fishing. As long as you’re not in a crowd and you’re not in a situation where you can physically transmit the virus.”

More than 1.6 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus, which has killed more than 96,000 nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Officers and mascots are patrolling beaches and attractions

Natural-resource officers were patrolling Georgia’s Tybee Island on Saturday. At Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, police will enforce guidelines by giving warnings or asking people to leave, Mayor Paul Kanitra said.

In Florida’s Orlando area, the Gatorland wildlife theme park reopened Saturday after weeks of closure. Among its many safety measures: A Sasquatch-looking mascot with a 6-foot wingspan – the Social Distancing Skunk Ape – will wander the grounds, encouraging guests to keep well apart.

The park will offer free masks to guests, and it has added 100 hand sanitizer stations, CEO Mark McHugh told CNN.

“We had hand sanitizers everywhere to begin with. You can’t even turn around without running into one now,” McHugh said.

In Texas on Friday, bars joined the list of businesses allowed to reopen, though with capacity limits.

In that state’s capital, Austin, plenty of people were out getting drinks into early Saturday morning, Taylor Blount told CNN. Several images he posted to Twitter showed one street teaming with people in the night.

Other businesses may reopen as the weather warms up.

In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak says he hopes to be able to allow casinos to reopen on June 4. Sisolak announced Friday that the state’s Gaming Control Board will make a final decision in its next meeting Tuesday. Nevada casinos have been closed since March 17.