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As States Reopen, Is It Safe to Go to the Beach?

family heading to the beach

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Key Takeaways

  • Experts assert that the risk of exposure decreases outdoors.
  • The reopening of parks, recreation areas, and beaches are determined by state and local governments. Before you go to the beach, make sure to check with your local health department regarding any restrictions or modifications to group activities.
  • COVID-19 is spread by close contact with an infected person. If you choose to go to the beach, avoid ones with large crowds.

As states reopen and we begin to emerge from our homes, heading to the beach for a day of fun and sun ranks high as a popular destination for many families. But with new COVID-19 cases still popping up all over the country, both experts and the community wonder if going back to the beach is considered a safe family outing.

Is It Safe to Go Back to the Beach?

Whether or not you should pack your flip flops and swimsuit and head to the beach depends on where you live, as well as the level of risk that is comfortable to you.

“In some areas, we are still seeing increases in cases of COVID-19, and as a result, it’s actually best to avoid crowded places like the beach, when possible,” says Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, practicing family physician from Phoenix, AZ. If you do decide to visit the beach, Bhuyan says the most significant risk is not from the sand or the water, instead, it's being exposed to other people.

Maintain Social Distancing Protocol

This is where social-distancing becomes critical. Mariea Snell, assistant director of the Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Maryville University, says going to the beach can be safe as long as you can stay a minimum of six feet away from others. To get this virus, Snell explains that you have to come into contact with it, so if you can keep a distance from others, and wash your hands, you are safe to be outside. 

That said, vulnerable populations, which include people who are at a higher risk for severe illness, should think twice before visiting the beach. This includes people 65 years and older and anyone with an underlining medical condition that makes them more susceptible to becoming severely ill from COVID-19.

With that in mind, here are some precautions to take on your next trip to the beach.

Go Prepared to Wear a Mask

Always leave your home prepared to wear a mask. But if you can create enough space to allow at least six feet of distance between your family members and the group next to you, then experts say you can safely remove your mask. But if the beach is crowded and there’s a chance of coming into close contact with non-family members, then wearing a face-covering might be warranted.

This is also the stance of the CDC. According to their website, they recommend wearing a cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. At the beach, this might be standing in line for the bathroom. 

Prepare for Safe Beach Time Before Going Out

Being outdoors can make you feel relatively safe. However, you still need to take precautions before your trip to the beach. Always bring a mask, hand sanitizer, and a pack of alcohol-based sanitizing wipes to clean shared surfaces such as chairs and tables. 

Bring Your Own Beach Gear

Some popular hot spots are equipped to handle all your needs, and that includes having towels, beach chairs, safety gear, volleyballs, and other recreation equipment available to borrow or rent. However, since COVID-19 is obviously still an issue, it's best not to share equipment.

Dr. Mieses Malchuk, a practicing family physician from Durham, NC says when going to the beach, it’s important to have your own towel and avoid sharing other personal items. "You should also avoid being close to other families while doing recreational activities on the beach and swimming close to others in the water," she says.

Scan the Crowds

Warmer temperatures mean larger crowds at the beach. So, before you head out, consider going during non-peak hours. Although this will vary depending on the beach and popularity with tourists, whenever possible, choose earlier in the morning or later in the evening when there will be fewer people.

Also, look for secluded beaches that tend to be less populated with tourists and locals. Just don’t venture too far from home. The CDC recommends visiting local recreation areas rather than traveling to other towns. If there are far too many people on the beach and you don’t feel that social distancing is possible, it may be a good idea to head for home and come back a different day. 

Choose Safe Beach Activities

Beach activities like volleyball, beach bowling, and bocce ball often involve groups of people that are not part of your immediate family. And with experts still urging us to stick with immediate family when leaving home, Snell says it might be best to avoid some popular recreational activities. “Even though you could stay a safe distance in a game like volleyball, you’re still coming into contact with other people since these activities can make you touch a possibly contaminated surface,” she explains.

With that in mind, her recommendations for the safest activities include swimming, surfing, paddle-boarding, reading a good book, building a sand sculpture, and relaxing six feet apart.  

Maximizing Safety At the Beach

If you fall under the "higher risk" category, it's probably best to avoid a crowded beach, but if you're not at high risk or you intend to play in the sand anyway, follow these tips:

  • Wear a mask when you cannot maintain social distancing or when standing or waiting in common areas such as the bathroom line or food truck.
  • Avoid congregating in the parking lot where you may find yourself in close proximity to other people. Save the conversations for the beach where it’s easier to maintain social distancing. 
  • Wash your hands in the bathroom for at least 20 to 30 seconds before you go home, and don't forget to use a disposable towel to open the door handle as you leave so you don't re-contaminate your hands. If you cannot get to the bathroom, use hand sanitizer
  • When you get home, wash your hands immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Transitioning to a new normal is not easy, but it is possible. Taking steps to protect yourself and others is critical as we begin to resume life outside of our homes.

Even if going to the beach poses less risk than being indoors, you still need to take precautions to protect yourself and others. When in doubt, check with your local health department for information about beach safety protocols.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness. Updated May 14, 2020. 

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Updated April 3, 2020.