As Labor Day brings the close of an unusually quiet tourism season, beaches across the United States are drawing in major crowds, mostly unhindered by threats of the coronavirus pandemic and heat waves in some parts of the country.
Many of the U.S.’s most popular beaches in Florida, California and on the Jersey Shore saw high traffic over the weekend and through Monday, while others, such as some in Hawaii, shut down to get ahead of visitors potentially spreading the virus.
As of Monday, the U.S. continues to lead the world with the most coronavirus cases: more than 6.2 million total cases and nearly 189,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Daytona Beach, Florida
Labor Day weekend in Daytona Beach kicked off with sunny skies, not a cloud in sight, temperatures in the low 90s and lines of lifted trucks waiting to drive on what’s billed as the World’s Most Famous Beach.
By 10 a.m. Saturday, the beaches were filled with locals and visitors, many arriving for the Daytona Truck Meet. Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue closed down several beach ramps because of the crowds. By noon, lifted trucks filled with people stuffed into the cabs and beds lined State Road A1A, waiting to get to the ramps that were still open.
“We have been extremely busy all morning with parking, making sure everyone only parks at a post due to social distancing,” said Capt. Tamra Malphurs of the beach patrol.
While the truck meet usually brings in more than 80,000 people to the city, this year the event organizers estimated just 35,000 because of the pandemic. Mostly, people have been following social distancing guidelines, according to Messod Bendayan, public information officer for the Daytona Beach Police Department.
“It doesn’t seem to be as busy this year,” Bendayan said. “I definitely am seeing less trucks than last year.”
The event ran through Sunday and normally included parties Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, plus other festivities, but COVID-19 has changed those plans, event organizer Jordan Muhlbauer said, adding that more than 1,300 trucks were registered for the event.
California is sweltering under a dangerous heat wave Labor Day weekend with triple-digit temperatures throughout much of the state, raising concerns about power outages and the spread of the coronavirus as throngs of people packed beaches and mountains for relief.
Death Valley hit a record-high temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, eclipsing the previous record of 119 Fahrenheit set in 2017, according to the National Weather Service.
Numerous parking lots for San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles County beaches closed after they filled to capacity, and lifeguards reported seeing large crowds.
“Very busy conditions. The beaches are packed wall to wall,” Orange County Lifeguards Capt. Brad Herzog said. “Holiday weekends are very busy at our beaches. But we’re probably a notch or two busier because of the heat wave.”
Because of the pandemic, L.A County beaches were closed during the Fourth of July weekend. But other counties kept their shores open. Holiday gatherings were blamed, in part, for COVID-19 spikes in some counties.
Health authorities warned that beaches could be closed if they become too crowded.
Temperatures Saturday at sunrise were already in the upper 80s and lower 90s over many foothill areas of Southern California, the National Weather Service in Oxnard said. By midday, the mercury hit a record-breaking 117 degrees in Woodland Hills in LA’s San Fernando Valley.
Downtown Los Angeles reached 110 degrees on Saturday. Temperatures in inland parts of the San Francisco Bay Area were soaring to the low 100s, and Death Valley broiled at a record-breaking 125 degrees.
The weather service predicted “brutally hot” temperatures through Monday as a high pressure system perches over the Western United States.
Jersey Shore, New Jersey
Though Labor Day usually marks the end of summer, beach fees and lifeguards at the Jersey Shore will remain in place longer than usual this year and restaurants have only just begun to serve diners indoors again.
Most visitors to the Jersey Shore on Sunday were in good spirits, but many still were preoccupied with the new school year – and its attendant risks of contagion – as well as mixed reactions to how the pandemic has affected their plans for some much-needed recreation.
Like a few other towns in Ocean County and several more in Monmouth, Seaside Park is extending its beach staffing into September – and will also require badges on September weekends.
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In many ways this Labor Day weekend, with its postcard-perfect weather, has been the same as any other. Traffic slowed to a standstill on Route 35 the entire length of the Barnegat Peninsula, from Berkeley Township to Bay Head. Families with coolers and infants in arms mingled with packs of teenagers and young adults catching a few last rays before the weekend ends. Motorcycles and beach cruisers coasted languidly up and down oceanfront highways and avenues.
But in many other ways, the specter of COVID-19 hung like an invisible rain cloud over what would ordinarily be the summer’s swan song. Lines of diners and shoppers snaked at 6-foot intervals out the doors of restaurants and Wawas. Though certainly not ubiquitous, face masks are still commonplace, even outdoors on a windy weekend.
Cape Kiwanda, Oregon
The Cape Kiwanda public parking lot reached max capacity by early afternoon Sunday as crowds flocked to the state beach to take in the last breaths of summer over Labor Day weekend.
By early afternoon, the sun and cool breeze lured more than 1,000 visitors to the beach at Pacific City, despite Gov. Kate Brown’s plea last week to stay close to home to prevent a spike in cases.
Bend resident Rob Hardie, who has ventured to the coast for the holiday weekend for the past eight years, said he noticed a slight drop in visitors this year. Others observed the summer weekend crowd sizes in Pacific City have mostly returned to what you’d see on a typical summer day.
“This weekend in years past has been really crazy, and it seems like it’s not as frantic as it has been,” Hardie said.
On the COVID-19 front, Chris Havel, associate director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said most beachgoers opt not to wear a mask and are mostly spaced out along the beach. Staff has noted “decent” mask-wearing compliance in the restroom and parking areas.
Hawaii County, Hawaii
Hawaii County took a different Labor Day approach than most others: It closed all beaches and shoreline parks in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said the closure will last through Sept. 19. Exercise, fishing, food gathering and restroom and shower facility use will still be permitted, along with access to the ocean, the agency said. Use of barbecues, tents, coolers and other items associated with picnics and parties will be prohibited in order to limit large public gatherings, Mayor Harry Kim announced earlier this month.
The county previously announced the closure of scenic Waipio Valley on the north end of the island because of concerns about a lack of resources to enforce COVID-19 safe distancing practices among the large crowds anticipated for the holiday weekend.
Policies intended to prevent the spread of the virus will be enforced by the Hawaii County Police Department, civil defense said.
“We need everybody to be responsible and follow the preventive policies of face coverings, distancing and gatherings,” the agency said.
Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY; Virginia Barreda, Salem Statesman Journal; Alex N. Gecan, Asbury Park Press; Nikki Ross, The Daytona Beach News-Journal; and The Associated Press