By Niki Nassiri
At West Meadow Beach on the north shore of Long Island, the parking lot is packed on the Saturday afternoon of April 4. Playgrounds are cordoned off with makeshift wooden fences and plastic signs citing a New York executive order for its closure. Yet people, masked and masked-less, mill about the beach like any regular weekend. But This is happening 15 days after Governor Andrew Cuomo issued restrictions to the use of public spaces amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed the lives of 5,489 New York residents. Parks on the island are as active as they’ve ever been.
With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Long Island hitting 32,247 yesterday and the peak yet to come, Long Island officials are growing increasingly frustrated with residents ignoring social distancing rules. In Oyster Bay town, five parks have been shut down with a mandatory social distancing order at all public spaces and on March 24, Brookhaven town closed all playgrounds, beaches and parks for activities besides solitary walking or hiking. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced closures of fields and shared facilities on March 22.
“It’s one thing when you’re going out with your family who you’re already exposed to,” Hope Gullo, a resident of Franklin Square and political science student at Nassau Community College said. “But sometimes there are groups of friends hanging out like it’s normal.”
Gullo visited Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove on March 26, four days before the park closed and Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor on April 4. Gullo planned her trips at times when most people would be eating dinner and chose paths that would be empty. But she found even then more people than she expected would be there.
“The challenges are that it can be difficult to maintain social distancing in parks and beaches,” Dr. Jacqueline Moline, chair of occupational medicine, epidemiology and prevention at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said. “If a beach is deserted, then it’s fine, but if there are groups of people, it is hard to maintain social distancing.”
Going outside and participating in regular exercise can help reduce anxiety and increase mood, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“This whole thing is taking a toll on me.” Brendan O’Sullivan, a resident of Smithtown who recently visited Nissequogue State Park in Kings Park, said. O’Sullivan has an anxiety disorder. “I woke up with a headache a few days ago and I quickly googled symptoms of coronavirus.”
People should be cautious when going outside, and to remember not to touch doors, fences and other like objects, Moline said.
“As the weekend approaches with warmer weather and clear skies, we want to remind you about the importance of social distancing to make sure you and your neighbors stay healthy,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said in an online message to residents on April 2. The letter addressed government building hours, social distancing and a town breakdown of coronavirus numbers.
The Suffolk County Parks Department said on their website that park staff would patrol parks when possible. They declined to comment for this article.
When O’Sullivan was headed to a quieter part of the Nissequogue State Park, he noticed most cars on the road went towards the Kings Park Bluff, a popular spot to see the sunset.
“I saw so many cars go into the bluff,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m like, oh god, they’re about to all go hang out with their friends. These are people who are not helping flatten the curve.”