WELLFLEET — Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday, without providing evidence, that social distancing at beaches means blankets must be 12 feet apart — at least during phase one of the state’s reopening. Wellfleet will take it a step further, reducing beach parking capacity by 25 percent.
Baker’s latest advisory gave towns the authority to make final decisions on beaches. Wellfleet Beach Administrator Suzanne Grout Thomas came up with the parking restriction as a way of testing the density experience on the beach early in the season.
State Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) has said that coronavirus regulations should be the same throughout the Cape to minimize visitors’ confusion and frustration.
“Region-wide consistency is very important,” Cyr told reopening planners on Monday. “Going it alone really concerns me.”
Officials worry that overly restrictive rules in one town will lead to overcrowding in others.
The ocean beaches that Wellfleet administers — Lecount Hollow, White Crest, Cahoon Hollow, and Newcomb Hollow — have an average of about 53,000 square feet within the lifeguard watch zone boundaries at mid-tide, Thomas told the Independent.
A reporter’s rough calculation indicates that space should be adequate, at least at Lecount, White Crest, and Cahoon, with Newcomb Hollow the beach most likely to push the limits on the 12-foot separation rule.
If the average beach blanket group take up an eight-by-eight-foot square, with 12 feet of distance between them and the next, each group would need about 400 square feet. That means that at mid-tide the lifeguard zone should accommodate a rule-abiding crowd of about 133 blanket groups.
That is close to the number of parking spots at each beach. Lecount Hollow has 136 spots; the White Crest front parking lot has 138 (not including the day-pass parking lot that the select board has already closed for this year); and Cahoon Hollow has 80 spaces. If each car is counted as a proxy for a blanket group, there would be virtually no need to limit spaces.
Newcomb Hollow, though, has 184 spaces, so if a car is a proxy for a blanket group, then at full capacity, the number of blanket groups might outstrip the lifeguarded space.
Indoors Vs. Outdoors
The reason for the governor’s 12-foot distancing rule at the beach is unclear. Studies show that social distancing outdoors is not nearly as crucial in preventing infection as it is indoors.
According to preliminary research on Covid-19 infection rates, the dangers of contracting the virus at the beach might not warrant the 12-foot rule. A study of 318 Covid-19 outbreak pockets in China found that transmission occurred outdoors in only one of them.
A similar study conducted in Japan concluded that outdoor transmission was 18.7 times less likely than indoor transmission.
Neither of these studies has been peer-reviewed and therefore cannot be used to influence decisions made by lawmakers.
A recent study on transmission of Covid-19 by Dr. Lydia Bourouiba of M.I.T., which has been used to support the six-foot separation standard, mentioned that transmission is much less likely outdoors due to increased air circulation.
Bourouiba’s work suggests that the six-foot rule might not be needed outdoors, let alone the 12-foot separation proposed by Baker.
But Grout Thomas said she was most concerned about entry areas where people may pass close to one another even when the beaches are not crowded.
The National Park Service, which operates six beaches in the Cape Cod National Seashore, has not decided what regulations to enforce on its beaches this summer.
“We are looking at ways to adaptively recover and enhance access,” said Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom. “We hope to have our plan outlined by the end of the week.”