Editor's note: This headline was updated at 11:34 a.m. Saturday, April 25, 2020.
emerald isle — With partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70s expected Saturday and Sunday, town officials are bracing for activity on the beach and in the water during the second “open ocean” weekend since the end of March.
They’re also preparing more help along the 13-mile-long beach.
According to the town fire department, which operates the lifeguard program, a group of returning guards from last season began to train this week, doing classwork and physical fitness work. They also got familiar with the department’s personal watercraft and with the special P2P rescue surfboards that have been purchased or donated in the past few years.
Some returning guards, who completed training April 17, hit the strand last weekend, the first one in which swimmers, surfers and kiteboarders had been allowed in the ocean since April 2, when Bogue Banks mayors banned anyone not on a motorized vehicle from entering.
“Our new lifeguards will start training on (Saturday) May 2,” said department Capt. Bill Mathias, who is in charge of the training. “This year we have 10 returning lifeguards and we’ll have 10 new ones.”
That’s four more than worked the town’s beach last season.
Lifeguard service, in the wake of four rip current-related drownings in spring 2019, started several weeks earlier than the usual mid-May date.
According to Town Manager Matt Zapp, five roving guards on vehicles were on the beach Saturday and four were working Sunday. That approximate level will continue until the trainees are ready.
“Generally, people were well-behaved,” Mr. Zapp said of the first open ocean weekend. “We had some parking issues … (but) not many. One vehicle that blocked the (vehicle) ramp (at The Point) was towed.”
He said he doesn’t expect the town to make any changes in its anti-virus restrictions right away, especially since N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday he was extending his stay-at-home executive order through Friday, May 8.
That means bars most likely won’t reopen in town for at least two more weeks, nor will restaurants, except those that offer delivery or take-out service. All non-essential businesses must remain closed under the governor’s order.
Town commissioners held a special conference-call Friday for an update on the novel coronavirus situation and another item.
Mr. Zapp said town police last weekend didn’t issue any citations for beach regulation violations, including the 6-foot-social distancing requirement and the gathering limit of less than 10 people.
The ocean restriction was lifted April 16, effective April 18, by Mayor Eddie Barber. Surfers protested the measure before it was lifted and started a petition against it, too.
Mr. Zapp said there were a “moderate” number of people on the beach last weekend despite some rainy weather and the fact that public beach access parking lots remain closed.
“Water temperatures were still in the low 60s,” he said. “Surfers, wearing wetsuits, were primarily the only people in the water.”
One of the reasons for the ocean access restriction was to limit the number of people coming to the beach, but the intent was also to lessen the possibility a water rescue would be needed during the pandemic.
Mayor Barber and the other Bogue Banks mayors lifted the restrictions after officials continually monitored “the development and changes related to COVID-19,” Mr. Zapp said.
“An unanticipated result of COVID-19 was the early closure of colleges and high schools,” which he said allowed the town to hire lifeguards earlier.
Short-term rental restrictions also remain in place for the time being, and as of Thursday afternoon, all public beach access parking lots remained closed to discourage visitation.
Mr. Zapp said earlier this week that although the town is still requiring those who come from elsewhere to self-quarantine for 14 days to help prevent spread of the coronavirus, there’s really no way to know how effective that requirement has been.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.