Rehoboth closes beach, boardwalk; Carney adds enforcement teeth to emergency order

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The City of Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk & Beach is now closed due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns.

The decision comes after a warm spring day on Friday that led to an outcry over visitors not observing “social distancing” while on the beach or in patronizing boardwalk businesses. 

The Rehoboth order includes closing restrooms. Police will enforce the actions, a release from the city stated.

As of Saturday morning, Delaware had reported 40 coronavirus cases. 

In a related development, Gov. John Carney modified the State of Emergency to include enforcement powers for those not observing restrictions.

“We need everyone to take this situation seriously. We saw too many people on the beaches yesterday and we weren’t seeing the kind of social distancing that we need in order to slow the spread of coronavirus,”  stated  Carney. “This was a difficult decision, but we need folks to follow the rules to keep all Delawareans safe. Don’t go out in public unnecessarily. Wash your hands and disinfect surfaces frequently. Stay home, especially if you feel sick and even if you have mild symptoms. We will get through this together.” 

The beach order calls for the following: 

• The public is prohibited from accessing the beach except to exercise or walk their dogs where dogs are permitted.
• Local officials may choose to enact tighter restrictions.

 Delaware State Parks announced that effective at 5 p.m. that its beaches will be closed. While all state parks remain open, beach access from within Cape Henlopen, Fenwick Island, and Delaware Seashore state parks will be prohibited. Parking and fishing at the Indian River Inlet within Delaware Seashore State Park remains open.

These modifications will last until May 15, or until the public health threat of COVID-19 has been eliminated.

“We fully understand Governor Carney’s decision to close the beaches,” said City of Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns. “This move is for the health and safety for all our citizens.”

Rehoboth Beach officials confirmed that despite the provisions in Carney’s order, the closing of the beach and boardwalk bars all access and is effective immediately.

The Town of Fenwick Island also announced that access to the beach is banned, effective immediately.

Dewey Beach also closed all public access to beaches until further notice.

 Carney authorized state and local law enforcement to enforce the provision in any State of Emergency. The State of Emergency has the full force and effect of the law, and violations constitute a criminal offense.  

“Governor Carney’s action to close all Delaware beaches sends a vital message to all Delawareans and those who may be thinking of coming here,” said Lewes Mayor Ted Becker. “Our beach communities are a very important part of the state’s economy  but they are not equipped to be a safe harbor for those who come from other areas. We urge everyone to shelter in the location of their primary residence.”

There were also concerns over visitors coming to Rehoboth from other areas of the region.

Delaware House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach Friday said visitors should stay away, including people with second homes.

“I’m glad so many visitors love our beaches and want to spend time here. But now is possibly the worst time. If you don’t live down here, quite frankly, please return home. These are serious  – even dangerous  – times, and thousands of visitors coming here and stressing our resources during a crisis like this could have horrible results,” Schwartzkopf wrote in a social media post. “Please come back when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, but for right now, please use common sense and stay at your first home.”

Coastal Sussex County also has a large population of seniors who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Delawareans with general questions about COVID-19 or their exposure risk can call the Division of Public Health’s Coronavirus Call Center at 1-866-408-1899, or 711 for individuals who are hearing-impaired, from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Questions can also be submitted by email at DPHCall@delaware.gov.

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