The town of York closed its popular beaches Monday after large numbers of people converged on coastal towns near Maine’s southern border over the weekend, adding to fears of the spreading coronavirus.

Municipal officials said they were especially concerned about visitors flocking to the resort towns from outside the state, apparently as a getaway after a week of being cooped up because of the pandemic.

One town official in York County said he plans to ask the governor to restrict visitors from coming into the state.

While health officials say getting outdoors is a good idea, they continue to emphasize that people should stay at least six feet away from each other, and avoid groups and places where people are gathered. Having so many people getting outside in the same places defeats the purpose of social distancing and elevates concerns in beachfront communities, local officials said.

Stephen Burns, town manager in York, said he decided to close the beaches because “too many people are congregating.” He said the local beach ordinance gives him the authority to close the beach and he made the decision after consulting with the police chief and local health officer.

“Tons of people showed up, which is unacceptable,” he said. “We believe it is a lot of day-trippers, people trying to get out of Dodge. Right now it’s a scene of congregating and it needs to be addressed.”

The closure applies to Cape Neddick, Short Sands, Long Sands and Harbor beaches. They will remain closed indefinitely. Burns said he also will work to close town parks after Mt. Agamenticus had a “huge” turnout of people on Saturday.

Burns said he knows residents may be disappointed, but the town does not have the resources to limit access or enforce social distancing while keeping the beaches and parks open.

He also said he plans to ask the police department to put signs near the Maine Turnpike exit to warn visitors that the beaches and parks are closed.

“We don’t need the day-trippers right now,” he said, noting area residents can get out for walks in their neighborhoods.

A notice about the closure posted on the York Police Department Facebook page generated nearly 200 comments within an hour Monday afternoon. Some people said the closure went too far at a time when people need to get outside, but others pointed out that it was the safe thing to do given the large turnout over the weekend.

A woman walks on Short Sands Beach in York on Monday. York has shut down its public beaches because large numbers of people crowded beaches this past weekend. Other coastal towns in southern Maine are considering doing the same. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Monday that the coronavirus outbreak will worsen this week and that people across the country are not taking the threat seriously enough. He said people are flocking to beaches and going to the National Mall in Washington to see cherry blossom trees.

“Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now. So test or no test, we need you to understand you could be spreading it to someone else. Or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home,” Adams said during an interview on the “TODAY” show.

Gov. Janet Mills, along with state health officials, has encouraged Mainers to get outside. Last week, she directed the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to open all inland waters for fishing and to waive requirements anglers have a fishing license.

While people are free to travel, both Maine residents and visitors to the state are subject to the laws and orders of the state, said Lindsay Crete, the governor’s press secretary.

“As such, they should not be participating in gatherings of more than 10 and the governor urges in the strongest possible terms – regardless of where they are from – engage in physical distancing in order to protect their health and that of their families, loved ones and fellow citizens,” Crete said.

During his daily briefing Monday, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, did not express any concern when a reporter asked about people coming into Maine from out of state.

“I believe Maine is the most welcoming place I ever lived in my life and I hope it stays that way,” he said.

In Wells, Town Manager Jonathan Carter also has concerns about the number of people showing up in town, especially from out of state. On Saturday, a line of cars nearly a mile long lined a street near the beach. Most of those cars had out-of-state license plates, he said.

Carter said in neighboring Ogunquit, visitors were walking shoulder-to-shoulder along the Marginal Way.

“Downtown Ogunquit looked like a summer weekend,” he said. “This is not what we’re trying to portray. We want containment. We want people to stay home and away from each other. We’re not trying to be nasty about this, but it’s common sense.”

Carter said he and town selectmen worry the influx of people makes social distancing harder and takes away limited resources.

“There were tons of extra people here. They create a need to go shopping and it takes the resources that are limited at our local Hannaford and IGA,” he said. “If this was a normal time, we’d be embracing this. But it’s not, it’s bringing the virus here.”

Carter plans to send a letter to the governor asking her to consider visitor restrictions and provide more guidance to municipalities on government closures.

Other towns in southern Maine also had many visitors to beaches over the weekend, although concerns were more tempered further north from the border.

People were out walking on Biddeford beaches, but not in numbers that concerned city officials.

The parking lot at Pine Point in Scarborough was nearly full Saturday afternoon, though people did not linger there and kept their distance from each other on the beach.

Old Orchard Beach Town Manager Larry Mead pointed out that Old Orchard Beach and Pine Point are contiguous and wide, giving people plenty of room to spread out.

“This allows for a large number of people without seeming crowded when the activity is primarily walking, rather than sunbathing and swimming,” Mead said.

Mead said the town will monitor beach activity while adhering to any guidance provided by the Maine CDC.


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