Most state public lands will reopen Tuesday as Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to ease restrictions on outdoor recreation takes effect. But not Washington’s coastal beaches.
In March, popular beaches in places like Ocean Shores and Long Beach were one of the flash points for social gatherings that public health officials warned were not safe.
“It made people very nervous. They were very concerned that some of those people would inadvertently be bringing the virus to our community,” said Crystal Dingler, mayor of Ocean Shores.
It’s located on the central Washington Coast, on a peninsula with ocean access on one side and freshwater on the other. It attracts lots of recreational tourism, as well as retirees. And she says about half the population is 60 or older.
After the governor enacted his stay-at-home order, Dingler says Ocean Shores closed their beach access areas, shut down all hotels and put a curfew in place to discourage tourism, which she estimates is now at about 40 percent of normal levels.
And she says their county, Grays Harbor, has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in three weeks, as of last Friday.
So, she was hoping to reopen the beaches, allowing full access and cars to drive on them once again.
“However, it appears that up and down the coast, all of the other communities and counties are keeping their beaches closed. We don't want to be the only ones open. It would be too many people coming perhaps to one place,” Dingler said.
Pacific County — south of Grays Harbor, where Ocean Shores is located — was a driving force behind the coast-wide closure.
Pat Matlock, a public information officer with the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office, says the mayors and the county commissioners there together decided to keep all of their beach access areas closed.
“They chose to do that so they can limit the amount of people that go on the beach, so we can practice safe social distancing,” he said. “The beaches are still open. People can still recreate on the beach. They just can't drive onto the beach, using our beach access.”
Accessing the beaches by foot is allowed, because they are under state jurisdiction. But getting there can take some effort.
Inslee has given local governments the discretion to do what they think is best for their communities, with regard to recreational areas.
Mayor Dingler, of Ocean Shores, says she is paying close attention to the governor’s orders. She’s also hoping to keep plans in place to reopen hotels in Ocean Shores on May 19.