By Anne Marie Chaker and Sarah E. Needleman
June 2, 2020
The O’Connors’ summer travel plans involve several trips—to the backyard.
With a family visit to Sacramento, Calif., on hold, and her three children’s summer camps and swimming lessons canceled, 37-year-old Glenda O’Connor says she is buckling down at home in Portland, Ore. She recently spent more than $700 on outdoor upgrades including a movie projector for her children, Fiona, 6, Gabriel, 3, and Cecilia, 1.
Weighing everything from her father’s health condition to how she feels about public restrooms during the Covid-19 pandemic, she says it is unlikely that she will make the 10-hour drive to see her parents.
“We are trying to make our house exciting,” says Ms. O’Connor, a nurse.
As states begin to allow businesses and recreational sites to reopen, summer’s traditional ecosystem of pools, beaches, and campsites is flickering back to life—but restrictions are plenty and services often limited. Figuring out which facilities are running, which activities are allowed—and whether you’re ready—can feel overwhelming.
A recent survey asked 1,000 respondents to gauge their travel appetites after restrictions ease. A total of 27% said they were either unsure or wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a vacation by car even 60 days after the easing of restrictions, 44% said they felt the same about flying, and 58% said they were unsure or wouldn’t travel internationally, according to the survey by Mower, a New York-based marketing firm.
“There’s what you’re allowed to do, and then what you’re comfortable doing,” says Mary Gendron, a managing director for Mower. It may take a while for many people to reacclimate. “It’s not like flipping a switch,” she says.
For those who are thinking about venturing out for recreation this summer, here’s a preview of what to expect.
As beaches open, there will be a lot of rules. In California, some state parks and beaches are closed, while others are open with restrictions. In Los Angeles County, for instance, beaches reopened May 13 amid a patchwork of restrictions: Surfing, swimming and running are OK, but biking isn’t. Paddleboarding is allowed, but chairs, umbrellas and coolers aren’t.
In Maryland, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan reopened the city’s beaches and boardwalk earlier this month. Visitors are permitted to bring chairs and blankets, but gatherings of more than 10 people aren’t allowed.
Heather Michaelson, a 47-year-old project manager at a technology-systems company in Hanover, Md., took her two children, Liora, 11, and Asher, 9, to Ocean City last weekend. They rode bikes, flew a kite and ate funnel cake. They wore face masks in souvenir shops, and Ms. Michaelson says some boardwalk benches were blocked off. “It felt normal, with a twist of weird,” she says.
Some beaches are open for swimming in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware, while at others, activities are limited to exercising on the beach, surfing and fishing. Hours may be scaled back.
In Cape May County, N.J., about two dozen “social distancing ambassadors” will remind beach and boardwalk visitors to stay at least 6 feet apart. The ambassadors, typically county employees, will wear special vests to help make them visible.
Many families are waiting to see whether their local swimming pools will open this summer.
In Maryland’s Montgomery County, where pools and aquatic centers are closed, Franklin Knolls Pool in Silver Spring has asked its 438 members to pay their regular summer dues of $280 to $560 in the hopes that it might open this summer. A portion may be refunded in the event of a late opening; if the pool doesn’t open this summer, the payments—minus a portion for upkeep costs—can be put toward next year’s dues, says pool president Greg McCarthy.
In Austin, Texas, where the municipal government runs 45 aquatic facilities including neighborhood pools and splash pads, a spokesman says the sites, which normally would have started to open by now, remain closed. “This is under evaluation to see if any operations are possible this summer,” a city spokesman says.
Shirra Hanna, a 41-year-old construction accountant in Austin whose sons, 9-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Sam, are regulars at Austin city pools, has been browsing $150 aboveground pools online. “They have all been sold out,” she says.
Some families are hiring professionals to build them pools. Pool sales in the past two weeks are up at least 20% from a year earlier, says Brett Abbott, owner of Pool Builder Marketing, a consulting service based in Austin.
Litehouse Products LLC, a chain of pool and hot-tub stores based in Strongsville, Ohio, expects sales to grow 10% to 50% this summer, says president Chris Curcio—a boost that may have saved the company. Interest in pools was much lower before all the stay-at-home orders. “Six weeks ago we weren’t sure we were going to be in business” at this point, he says.
HOTELS AND SHORT-TERM RENTALS
At hotels, guests can expect everything from temperature checks to dining behind partitions.
Nearly 85% of Marriott International Inc.’s 5,440 hotels and other properties in North America are now open, according to a spokesman for the chain. To minimize contact, guests are encouraged to use a mobile app to check in and out of rooms themselves. A new feature being rolled out will also let guests use the app as a room key.
Furniture throughout common areas is being spaced farther apart. Signs will remind guests to wash hands frequently. Rooms won’t have pens, notepads or decorative pillows. Front-desk clerks may be stationed behind glass dividers, a spokesman says.
Some Marriott properties are taking additional steps. Guests at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort and Spa in Singer Island, Fla., will see signs in elevators and on gym equipment and pool furniture indicating the last time they were disinfected and by whom, says Roger Amidon, general manager.
Pool visitors can request 8-foot-tall plexiglass shields to separate them from other guests poolside, and staff-made partitions are available for restaurant diners.
At Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., which partially reopened on May 8, each guest will receive a face mask upon arrival. An eight-page document detailing “health and disinfection guidelines” says guests will have their temperatures taken when they enter, and anyone with a confirmed temperature over 100 degrees will be redirected to nearby medical care.
Employees are instructed not to open car doors for arriving guests, and the bell carts are to be disinfected after each guest is assisted.
The hotel is intentionally filling only up to 200 of its 323 rooms, says Christopher Baran, director of sales and marketing.
Airbnb Inc. is requiring hosts who choose to participate in a special cleaning program to keep their properties vacant for at least 24 hours after guests check out. The home-rental service requires that they use certain approved disinfectants as well as masks and gloves for cleanings. Hosts who certify that they have taken those steps will have their listings specially marked.
Some consumers are gingerly resuming hotel stays. Instead of a two-week vacation to Italy, Jami Weissman will be staying with her family at a beachfront hotel about a three-hour drive from her home in Westchester County, N.Y., that offers minimal interaction with other guests. “I don’t have to go in an elevator, I can park my own car and I don’t have to walk through the lobby,” says the 43-year-old stay-at-home mom.
Luxury-travel adviser Anissa Klein, who helped Ms. Weissman book her trip, says clients are also looking to stay in private homes and cottages on resort properties that provide access to services like housekeeping, children’s programs and outdoor activities such as tennis, biking, and water sports.
PARKS AND CAMPING
Campgrounds can come under various public or private jurisdictions, so openings and closures may vary widely, even within the same state. California State Parks spokeswoman Gloria Sandoval says state campgrounds have been closed since mid-March. But some camping in the Mendocino National Forest, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, reopened last weekend.
In Pennsylvania, tent and RV camping in state parks resumed May 15 for certain counties, while cabins and cottages will open June 12, says Terry Brady, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Private campgrounds in the state were allowed to reopen at the beginning of this month.
Gary Quigley, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest, a 34-acre campground in Harrisville, Pa., says he was surprised when he learned that his campsite could reopen in days. “We were betting on June at least,” says Mr. Quigley. He and his staff of eight workers spent three 12-hour days mowing the lawn, closing off the playgrounds and ordering supplies for the convenience store and pizza shop. Even with new protocols recommending masks in public and immediate-family-only games of laser tag and cornhole, 95 campsites out of 110 were filled on opening weekend—more than the 80 sites typical of past years, Mr. Quigley says. “It’s the busiest spring we’ve had,” he says.
The 164 campsites on Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, managed by the National Park Service, have been closed since March 18, says Liz Davis, the park’s chief of interpretation and education. Last Sunday, the park’s beaches and trails reopened to visitors: 1,210 cars entered the park, just below the 1,270 that entered on the year-earlier Sunday, Ms. Davis says. She is hoping some camping might resume this summer; fees help pay for maintenance.
In Silver Spring, Md., Sarah Bigbee, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and 9 months, is considering buying a pop-up trailer or camper van with the money she has saved for summer travel. She has spent recent days exploring websites for parks and campgrounds within Maryland, in the hopes that some might be open for weekend jaunts. She says determining what might be open, however, feels like a guessing game. “There’s not much clarity,” she says.
A GUIDE TO PLAYING, WHILE PLAYING IT SAFE, THIS SUMMER
Regardless of the rules in place at recreation sites and accommodations, people should take their own steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus when out and about this summer. Here’s how to…
Nowhere is social distancing more challenging than an environment where you mix children, play, and water. It isn’t necessary or practical to wear a face mask while swimming, says Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission at Virginia Tech. There’s no evidence that Covid-19 can be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas, and water play areas; proper maintenance, including the use of chlorine and bromine, should inactivate the virus in the water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But people should consider wearing a mask when they are out of the water and near others, Dr. Marr says. “If the pool is crowded, I wouldn’t get in,” she says. Disinfect flotation devices when renting or borrowing, and use your own goggles, snorkels, or other gear worn on the face, she adds.
Rent a house
Many people are looking to rent homes so they can avoid hotel lobbies and elevators. But they’re still concerned about safety and cleanliness. Fine Song, a family physician and medical instructor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., says it isn’t necessary to bring your own linens, but if you plan to cook, wash any dishes or cutlery provided before using them. It can’t hurt to check with the host to be sure the house will be cleaned and aired out to your satisfaction ahead of your visit, says Dr. Song. He also suggests wiping down all high-touch surfaces with disinfectant upon arriving, as an extra precaution.
Head to the beach
Beach activity should be fine, as long as people keep responsible distances, experts say. “I think beaches are safe,” says Joseph Vinetz, a medical professor specializing in infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine. “There is ventilation, there is sunlight.” Crowds, partying and contact sports are a bad idea. But strolling on the beach and swimming in the water can and should be enjoyed, he says, emphasizing there is no evidence of Covid-19 transmission through seawater. “Keeping a standard 2-yard distance” from strangers is always advisable, he says.
Barbecue in the backyard
Before inviting friends over, think about setting things up to help maintain distance between people. Position chairs 6 feet apart, lay out utensils and napkins for individuals instead of letting people grab their own, and offer cloth face coverings (or ask guests to bring their own). Experts say don’t be shy about talking with friends about how they have been sheltering in place, before deciding to mingle. “Have conversations about what’s your risk and where have you been. We may not know 100%,” says Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida, Tampa.
Camping can be a nice way to spend time as a family, but be mindful at campsites. Keeping distance from strangers and wearing face coverings near others should become part of the camp safety rules discussed with family ahead of time, says Dr. Levine. Families should have a game plan if, say, another family invites them for a campfire or for a game of cornhole, she says. “You can say, ‘As a family, we are practicing physical distancing,’ ” she says. “You have a choice to avoid circumstances that put you in situations that make you less comfortable.”
Keep children playing
Children want to be active and outdoors, and there is no reason to keep them from doing that, experts say. “We want kids to interact with other kids in the neighborhood,” says Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It just has to be a little different.” Choose sports with minimal contact, and set up rules about distancing. A soccer game, a lacrosse ball toss, a pickup game of tennis are all good choices, he says. Skip horseplay, tag, or crowded neighborhood games of basketball, where contact, touching, and heavy breathing is riskier for transmission.
Dr. Allen says maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is important for children’s physical and mental health. “Getting outside and seeing other people is high on the list of things we need to do,” he says.
Ms. Chaker is a Wall Street Journal reporter in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ms. Needleman is a Journal reporter in New York. Email her at email@example.com.
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