HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- In Surf City USA, the community is split as COVID-19 changes the culture of the Southern California beach town.
“It’s maybe 50/50 who really want us to close the beach and then there’s other ones who, you know, it’s a hard time to stay at home” said Eric Blaska, a firefighter-paramedic for the Huntington Beach Fire Department.
Blaska says city beaches will stay open as long as people continue following social distancing guidelines.
“It’s difficult to make everyone happy right now,” he said. “We’re really trying to do that and make ends meet.”
To make that happen, Huntington Beach is using an educational approach by informing the public of the risks linked to this pandemic at these beaches.
“The faster we can flatten the curve and get back to our normal beach and our normal Surf City community,” Blaska said.
Across the country, some coastal cities are taking different approaches in the fight against COVID-19.
“We instituted civil penalties for anyone on the beach strand,” said fire chief Glen Rogers of the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department in North Carolina.
Rogers says local leaders decided to close beaches and that people can face fines of $500 for disobeying orders.
“The spigot is either turned all the way off or it will be turned all the way on,” he said. “We just have to do our part to flatten the curve.”
Flatten the curve as some surfers seek to rip the curl.
“It sucks not being able to surf but it also sucks that people are dying,” said local surfer Jason Andre.
Andre says he understands people wanting to escape quarantine to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. But when it comes to this pandemic, however, the soul surfer wants to be part of the solution – not the problem
“If it’s at the risk getting other people sick, I’d say it’s not a great idea,” he said.
While Andre can’t set foot on the sand, he and other surfers can still access this part of the Atlantic Ocean but only by boat.
“So, we’re not completely out of the water, yet,” he said. “But you definitely need to drive further distances or be fortunate enough to be in a place where you can jump in a boat and anchor offshore.”
From offshore to on the sand, health experts say it’s up to everyone to stop the spread of the coronavirus
“It’s not the sand or the water that’s the hazard,” said William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
He says the big problem during this pandemic isn’t the actual beaches – but rather beachgoers.
“In some places people can spread out on the beach because there’s plenty of space,” Schaffner said. “But in the parking lots, they tend to congregate and fall into those prolonged face-to-face conversations.”
From Southern California to North Carolina, coastal cities are taking different approaches with the same goal: make their respective beaches safer for those most vulnerable to the virus.