In Texas, they flocked to Galveston’s beaches. In South Florida, they formed long lines at marinas, boats in tow, ready to get out on the water. In Tennessee, they filled the streets of the resort town of Gatlinburg, and in New York City, they spread out across the grassy fields of Prospect Park.
With the weather warming across the U.S., people sought relief over the weekend after weeks of coronavirus restrictions. In some states, governors had begun easing those rules, even as confirmed cases and deaths attributed to the virus continued to rise. In others, lockdown orders remained in place.
Image: Liberty State Park in New Jersey (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)
In Texas, the state recorded nearly 31,000 cases Saturday, an increase of roughly 7,000 from the previous week, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Federal guidelines say states should ease their stay-at-home restrictions only after 14 days of declining cases, but Gov. Greg Abbott began opening stores, restaurants and movie theaters at limited capacity last week. Restrictions on beaches were also lifted.
In Galveston, where the beaches were closed in late March, Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis told MSNBC on Sunday that visitors appeared to be more spread out than normal. But he added that he’d seen few people wearing masks.
“And there are certain areas and certain times of day and certain places where it doesn’t seem like social distancing is even a thing,” he said. “It’s not even in their consciousness.”
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In Florida, where the number of cases rose from 30,000 on April 25 to 35,000 on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a partial reopening of the state’s economy last week. Restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to open their doors at 25 percent capacity starting Monday.
In South Florida, where three counties with high infection rates were excluded from the governor’s order, marinas, golf courses and parks in Miami-Dade County reopened last week with strict guidance in place, NBC Miami reported. People playing basketball in parks have to bring their own balls, for instance, while boats will have to remain 50 feet apart.
In the Miami suburb of Homestead, dozens of boat owners had lined up before 7 a.m. Sunday to get their vessels in the water, according to the station. The day before, the marina closed to would-be cruisers after reaching capacity.
“We’ve been locked up for quite some time now,” a boater, Terrance Dolan, told NBC Miami. “It’s time to get out and get some fresh air.”
Tennessee has also recorded an increase of nearly 3,000 coronavirus cases over the last week, according to Johns Hopkins, but Gov. Bill Lee allowed restaurants and retail stores to open at 50 percent capacity. He urged people to wear masks in public, and through the “Tennessee Pledge,” he encouraged businesses to adopt a series of measures to help prevent the spread of the virus, like wearing cloth face coverings inside shops, using plastic shields as barriers between customers and employees and establishing one-way aisles in retail stores.
But NBC affiliate WBIR of Knoxville found that few businesses in the popular mountain town of Gatlinburg appeared to be self-enforcing the governor’s recommendations. The station published photos from Saturday showing streets packed with pedestrians, and when a reporter from the station recorded passersby for 10 minutes, she found that just four were wearing masks.
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In New York City, where cases have also continued to rise and a more cautious Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended a statewide stay-at-home order until May 15, photos showed parks filled with people over the weekend. New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Sunday that three people had been arrested and that dozens more were issued summonses for violating the city’s social distancing rules Saturday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “strong day,” saying a “vast majority of New Yorkers are following the rules.”
Other states are also beginning to reopen. In Colorado, where cases rose to 16,000 from 13,000 over the last week, according to Johns Hopkins, Gov. Jared Polis allowed barbershops, tattoo parlors and salons to open their doors Friday with social distancing rules in place. Offices will be allowed to reopen Monday at 50 percent capacity.
Image: Huntington Beach pier in California (Apu Gomes / AFP – Getty Images)
And in California, where a statewide stay-at-home policy remains in effect “until further notice,” three counties have defied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19 executive order. An official with Modoc County, in the state’s rural northeast corner, told The Associated Press on Friday that residents were “moving forward with or without us. We really needed to create guidelines for them so that they could do this in the safest way possible.”
The guidelines weren’t reported, but the county says it has no recorded no COVID-19 cases.
Near Sacramento, Dr. Phuong Luu, the public health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties, said “lower-risk” businesses would be allowed to reopen while practicing social distancing. In a statement, Luu said the “grounded in science” approach would go into effect Monday.
Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.