Accessing Cape Ann's beaches later this week when weather improves might prove to be harder than residents who wish to escape their houses anticipate.
Residents eager to get outside over the weekend during the COVID-19 pandemic found that the gates Good Harbor and Wingaersheek beaches in Gloucester were closed.
Multiple residents called the Times to report their desire to get easy access to the beach during this difficult time and their frustration with finding their vehicles towed after parking along the side of the road.
"The gates and the parking areas are closed as of right now," said Gloucester police Chief Ed Conley on Monday, explaining that city's beaches themselves are still open for the public to enjoy.
That is not the case in Manchester or Ipswich.
Manchester closed down all beaches, parks and recreational spaces, including their associated parking lots, indefinitely on Sunday. This was due in part to the high number of beachgoers in town over the weekend.
In Ipswich, "Crane Beach is closed to all non-Ipswich residents until further notice," said a Monday afternoon news release from Ipswich police Chief Paul A. Nikas. The changes by the town and The Trustees of Reservations — which owns Crane Beach and the adjacent Castle Hill Estate — "are being made based on the latest guidance from state officials," according to the release.
Meanwhile, in Gloucester, the closed gates did not stop eager beach goers this past weekend as Conley reported 30 to 40 cars parked along Wingaersheek Beach alone.
As the vehicles proved to be restricting road access for emergency vehicles, Conley explained, Gloucester police officers were dispatched to ticket and tow specific vehicles.
"There is nothing wrong with being outside," Conley said. "I would encourage them to walk in their own neighborhoods. If they want to walk on the beach, as long as they are practicing social distancing and they can get to the beach other than a vehicle, I don't think there is anything wrong with that."
For Conley, the problem arises when he is having to dispatch officers to take care of illegally parked cars when they could be addressing other issues within the community.
"It is upsetting to me that people aren't taking this more seriously and it is causing me to divert resources, there and I don't want my officers engaging in face to face contact when they can avoid it," Conley said. "You've got to understand that we would hope that people would take this seriously and understand that when I have to dispatch a police officer over there, they are taking resources away unnecessarily."
Gloucester reported its first cases of coronavirus, three, on Saturday. On Sunday, it had five cases.
Conley said the issue of crowds and parking is not just a Gloucester, problem as Manchester police Chief Todd Fitzgerald detailed to Conley that "it was like Fourth of July down at (Singing) Beach."
Some community members are in agreement.
"A concern is to close off beaches and public landings to non-workers since people cannot or are not willing to realize the virus is something that can be brought home to their home or town by gathering at these spots," Dawn Jacobs emailed the Times. "West Gloucester beach and landing was flooded with people this past weekend despite playgrounds being closed off for kids."
"Gloucester can do better please," Jacobs continued.
While Gloucester's website outlines that parks, beaches, and trails are open for the general public to enjoy, specific outdoor activities are discouraged.
"Please do not engage in sports or activities (examples: baseball/softball, football, basketball, soccer) that require physical or shared contact," according to the city's official website. "Get out and enjoy the open spaces in Gloucester while practicing social distancing."
Manchester closes down beaches, parks
Manchester closed down all its beaches, parks and recreational spaces, including their associated parking lots, indefinitely on Sunday. This was due in part to the high number of beachgoers in town over the weekend.
"The beaches on Saturday were extremely busy," said police Chief Todd Fitzgerald. "I spoke with some of the business owners down there and they said sales were better than a 95-degree Fourth of July afternoon."
As more people came to the beach, parking started to overflow onto the streets and officers were needed to direct traffic. At 1 p.m., Fitzgerald closed off the Singing Beach parking lot to out-of-town visitors, meaning those with valid resident stickers were allowed to park.
An hour later, the department published a statement on its website, manchestermapd.com, stressing the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus epidemic and doing whatever is necessary to curb the virus' spread.
“By following guidelines set by local and state public health officials, we can all do our part to help keep the community safe while enjoying the warmer weather,” Fitzgerald was quoted in the statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation and share information as it becomes available.”
Speaking with the Times on Maonday, Fitzgerald said he enacted the parking restriction in order to protect his officers.
"We had officers out dealing with that and it's putting them at risk from contracting the virus," he explained. "If we have two or three people go down, we''ll be operating with a skeleton crew. We already have one officer in quarantine. Right now we're waiting on the test results to come back in and hopefully he'll be back to work."
If too many Manchester officers get sick, Gloucester police may be called to cover shifts. Fitzgerald said the logistics of this emergency measure are still being ironed out with Conley.
On Sunday, Manchester selectmen held a virtual meeting to discuss the next steps in protecting residents against the coronavirus. Fitzgerald called in to discuss the crowds he saw on Saturday. Members of the Board of Health recommended that public recreation shut down, and the selectmen voted unanimously to do so. In addition, personal care businesses such as hair salons, spas, massage studios, estheticians and exercise studios will be closed for the time being.
"This is all about public safety in this critical period when we are trying to prevent the rapid spread of COVID 19," said Selectmen Chairman Eli Bowling in a prepared statement regarding the closures. "As much as we hate to have to do this, the science tells us not allowing people to congregate is one of our best strategies.”
Taylor Ann Bradford, who reports on Gloucester issues, can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Cronin, who covers Rockport, Essex and Manchester, may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or email@example.com.